FBI: keep your drones grounded for Super Bowl, WM Phoenix Open

Experts say if you try flying, you will be caught. They have equipment that instantly detects the drone in the air and tracks the person at the controls.
Published: Feb. 1, 2023 at 5:17 PM MST|Updated: Feb. 1, 2023 at 6:03 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — Drones are becoming more and more common around the Valley — for work or just for fun — but for the Super Bowl and WM Phoenix Open, law enforcement agencies say to leave them at home.

They’ll have their eyes on the sky for the next two weeks. “This is not just a football game,” said Phillips Bates, FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge of Counterterrorism. “It’s an iconic event that the eyes of the world are on.”

Bates tells On Your Side that the FBI has teamed up with Valley police agencies to produce a public service announcement showing Cardinals mascot “Big Red” chasing after a drone. It’s a lighthearted way to get the word out, but the message is serious. “Around the world we’ve seen individuals who have taken a drone and attached an explosive to it,” Bates said. “They’ve attached other things to it and there are now commercially available adaptations you can make to a drone to drop things.”

And it isn’t just people with bad intentions who can cause problems flying drones. Hobbyists who simply fly for fun can accidentally pose a serious threat. “We’re asking people to leave their drones at home,” said Capt. David Folio of the Scottsdale Fire Department.

The WM Phoenix Open is another restricted area for drones. It’s right next to the runway at Scottsdale Airport. Flying a drone into the path of a small plane can be a deadly mistake. And first responders are also concerned about an errant drone flying into the stands. “We have large crowds, a large population,” Folio said. “This is a city within a city here, so we don’t want a drone to crash in a large populated area and just cause chaos.”

Experts say if you try flying, you will be caught. They have equipment that instantly detects the drone in the air and tracks the person at the controls. “A drone that’s flying around the stadium is considered an aircraft,” Bates said. “so there are laws in play at the moment that allow certain government agencies to use electronic countermeasures to take control of that drone and safely land it or distract it in a way, and have it moved to a safer location. We’re not quite to the point yet where we’re shooting shotguns or using ravens or falcons, as we’ve seen over in some European countries.”

In fact, at the last couple of Super Bowls, agents say they stopped dozens of drone flights, most from hobbyists unaware of the rules.

And the penalties can be stiff. “We’ve seen fines in the range of the tens of thousands of dollars,” Bates said. “We’ve also seen criminal penalties. You know, at a minimum local law enforcement or the FBI or other federal partners can seize that drone, so you might lose your drone.”

And we’re not just talking about drone flights right by the stadium or the golf course. There will be a temporary flight restriction in place on Super Bowl Sunday extending for 30 miles from the stadium, large enough to include Tempe and Scottsdale.