After all the problems they had at Heathrow Airport, I suppose this was inevitable. The FAA is declaring the airspace around the stadium for the Super Bowl to be a “no drone zone.” Anyone caught flying a drone over the event will be subject to heavy fines and a stretch in the crowbar motel. (Government Executive)

As hundreds of thousands of football fans descend on Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII, the Federal Aviation Administration is playing some zone defense.

The administration on Monday declared a “no drone zone” in the airspace around Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, where the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams will go head-to-head on Feb. 3.

The measure, which goes into effect Jan. 31, initially prohibits all drones from flying within one nautical mile of the stadium at altitudes below 1,000 feet. Then from 5:30 p.m. to midnight on Super Bowl Sunday, the zone will be expanded to all airspace below 18,000 feet and within 30 nautical miles of the stadium.

The fines are no laughing matter for most Americans. They’re talking about $20,000 for a single offense. How long the prison terms might be isn’t specified.

The first question is whether or not this ban will apply to the NFL Network. They fly camera drones inside the stadiums as part of their coverage. The announcement does say that exceptions will be made under certain circumstances, so I suppose they can get away with it.

You do have to wonder how they plan to enforce the expanded no-fly zone during the actual game. It’s supposed to cover thirty nautical miles around the stadium. Drones aren’t quite as common as cell phones yet, but there are a lot of them out there in civilian hands. Are they going to shoot down any drone flying around the suburbs?

It’s easy to understand the rationale for this order, particularly since we’ve already seen at least one kid attach a handgun to a drone that he could fire remotely.

The final question I believe we should consider is how far such bans will be going in the future. Either drones are legal and available for civilian use or they’re not. If they’re really such a threat, why does the Super Bowl get protection, but the Friday night high school football game doesn’t? Is the FAA on the way to basically regulating privately owned drones out of existence? And as I already mentioned, some of these regulations appear to be almost unenforceable, at least until better methods of shooting them down are more widely available.