A Pennsylvania man is facing federal charges for illegally flying a drone over M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Md., during the National Football League’s (NFL) AFC Championship game on Jan. 28. Considered a major threat, the unsanctioned drone flight prompted security officials to temporarily suspend the game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had put in place a temporary flight restriction (TFR) for M&T Bank Stadium during the game. A TFR temporarily restricts certain aircraft, including drones, from operating within a three nautical mile radius of the stadium. This is a standard practice for stadiums or sporting venues where a regular or post-season NFL, Major League Baseball, or NCAA Division One Game is occurring; or a NASCAR Cup, Indy Car, or Champ Series Race is occurring. The TFR goes into effect one hour before the scheduled start time and lasts until one hour after the end of a qualifying event.
“Illegally operating drones poses a significant security risk that will lead to federal charges,” said U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Erek L. Barron. “Temporary flight restrictions are always in place during large sporting events.”
During the AFC Championship game on Jan. 28, the unidentified and unapproved drone was deemed a serious enough threat that the NFL security team temporarily suspended the game. Maryland state troopers and FBI agents tracked the movement of the drone directly over the stadium and deployed to the Baltimore area where the drone landed.
According to the affidavit, drone operator Matthew Hebert, age 44, told law enforcement that he assumed there were no flight restrictions because a drone app he relied on didn’t indicate otherwise. His drone was not registered, and he didn’t have a license to operate it. Hebert allegedly flew the drone 100 meters or higher for about two minutes, capturing images of himself and the stadium.
If convicted, Hebert faces a maximum sentence of three years in federal prison for knowingly operating an unregistered drone and for knowingly serving as an airman without an airman’s certificate. Hebert faces a maximum of one year in federal prison for willfully violating U.S. National Defense Airspace. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. An initial appearance and arraignment will be scheduled later this month. A criminal complaint is not a finding of guilt.
“Operating a drone requires users to act responsibly and educate themselves on when and how to use them safely,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge R. Joseph Rothrock of the FBI’s Baltimore Field Office. “The FBI would like to remind the public of the potential dangers of operating a drone in violation of federal laws and regulations. The reckless operation of a UAS in the vicinity of a large crowd can be dangerous to the public, as well as interfere with other law enforcement and security operations.”
FAA drone regulations and other resources are available here.