Flying a Drone at Metlife Stadium...and Avoiding Getting Arrested
Updated: Jun 29, 2021
Let me begin by saying that I am a FAA-licensed (part 107), UAS (drone) operator. I follow the rules and regulations precisely, as this ever-growing industry has become my specialty and part of my livelihood. I also want to say to the aspiring pilots looking to fly around Metlife Stadium (Home of the NFL's Giants and Jets), DON'T DO IT.
Set up to film at the stadium for an ongoing project, though my target film date and authorization requests were still a month out, I decided to see if I could check it out and see if I could get a quick authorization through the FAA's LAANC (Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability) system. According to the flight charts and "boundaries" if you will, the stadium has no FAA no flight designation, only TFR during event times (TFR = Temporary Flight Restrictions)
I applied through the phone app, and within 2 minutes, I received the authorization code from the FAA's LAANC needed for flight in the area. So I took off.
Within 5 minutes of taking off, I heard the pitter-patter of a golf cart slowly approaching and voices speaking over a radio. I knew that security was coming to have a talk with me.
"Land the drone now", a large, scruffy old guard barked as he pulled up. He stated that drones were not allowed, that there were many signs, and that they have a no-fly zone around the stadium. He was probably right, but my only thought was what I knew at the time about the flight authorization and no-fly zone. Which, according to my training and experience with the FAA's authorizations, I was in the clear.
Standing in their parking lot while operating the drone was another story...
Upon landing the drone, I began to move to turn the drone off and power down my controller and screen. The guard did not want me to turn the drone off and I noticed him opening my back hatch of my SUV. I asked him not to touch my vehicle and he told me not to try and run away. (Buddy, THOSE days are over!). He advised me that the State Police were on their way. I gave him my Pilot and Driver's license and waited...
And boy were they ever on the way! 5 cars pulled up with lights flashing and 2 troopers in each vehicle. It was quickly obvious that these anxious troopers were young and possibly in training. The oldest and most "Trooper-looking" took the lead and began questioning me. Our findings were that I had not spotted any signs in the area and I disclosed that I had authorization. By this time more cars pulled up and I had a crowd as I showed the Trooper, using my phone, how the authorization worked. I explained that without the authorization, in a no-fly zone, the drone will not even take off. Then, with permission, I entered the authorization code again and the drone started up for takeoff. They did not think it was possible to fly there. They were friendly and appreciated my honesty and transparency. I talked drones with a handful of them as they checked my info. I was making quick friends as many of them started calling me "Danny" and bumping my knuckles as they started making their ways back to their vehicles. They then gave me the ok to go saying that I was obviously a professional pilot, I cooperated completely, and had followed the rules to what I knew to be correct. They said I even taught them some things. But they still left me with the warning, NOT TO RETURN, or I WILL BE ARRESTED FOR TRESPASSING.
Fair enough I say...
So here's what I learned:
1 - MetLife Stadium has DJI's state-of-the art drone detection system in place. They knew exactly where I was operating the drone and my location. That's fuckin cool! I'm glad this exists and works!
2 - Making sure that you follow the rules, at least to the best of your knowledge, is key to being a safe pilot and being seen as a professional. And it might keep you out of the back of a police car. Always have a preflight checklist that you can show...IMMEDIATELY! I showed them that this was a planned flight. EARLY, but still being planned all the same. I showed them all of my charts and plan on the phone apps, and the authorization codes received to operate.
3 - Always ask when not sure. Everything said above, I was still in the wrong here. I almost feel foolish afterwards that I thought this would not catch some eyes operating my drone at this, I hate to say it, targeted location in New York city.
Their security team was fast and on me quick. They were all professional through and thorough. I appreciate their understanding and I was glad to help them understand my view from the drone pilot's perspective. We all learned some things. I was not the first, nor will I be the last pilot to attempt to operate in this area. But it needs to be done correctly and with the permission of the MetLife stadium security. Or you are going to get caught and questioned. Not a mistake I'll make again.
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