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‘No Drone Zone’ for Super Bowl; Feds have helicopters checking security, radiation

no drone zone

The 'No Drone Zone' warning signs posted by the FAA contain a plain image and message. Credit: fluerevue.de

By David Pendered

With an alliterative name like “No Drone Zone” in place for Downtown Atlanta starting Thursday, it seems the souvenir hawkers would have come up with a humorous logo to offer the crowds around Super Bowl LIII. They had plenty of advance warning, and even design inspiration from the government.

no drone zone

The ‘No Drone Zone’ warning signs posted by the FAA contain a plain image and message. Credit: fluerevue.de

Areas around the stadiums in Houston and Minneapolis were “No Drone Zones” when the Super Bowl came to those towns in the past two years, according to reports by the Federal Aviation Authority.

The FAA has a sporty little logo to go with the restriction – a drone covered by the international symbol for “No.” And the clearly statement message – “No Drone Zone.”

But, so far, the fan wear seems to consist largely of team jerseys, hats and the usual grab bag of memorabilia.

For its part, nflshop.com is sticking with tried and true items, including items from the Patriots’ shop that include Super Bowl LIII jerseys priced at $199.99, a flip coin for $99.99 and, for $299.99, an, “Autographed New England Patriots James White Fanantics Authentic Super Bowl LIII Pro Football.”

This isn’t to suggest the drone-free zones are a laughing matter. They’re not.

Just last week, flight arrivals at Newark’s airport were suspended after a drone was spotted over the nearby Teterboro Airport. Drones disrupted flights at London’s Heathrow Airport this month and in December at nearby Gatwick Airport.

The security measures are intended to address a super crowded sky as well-heeled fans fly into and out of metro Atlanta. More than 1,100 additional aircraft are expected to fly in and out of the region during the three-day period surrounding the game, according to a report by the FAA.

Nor do these reports suggest the federal government is clearing its planes from the sky during the bowl festivities. It’s not.

The U.S. Energy Department has selected this moment in time to conduct low-altitude helicopter flights over Downtown Atlanta and Buckhead. These flights were conducted Tuesday and Wednesday by Bell’s 412 utility helicopter. Flights resume on Sunday.

According to a statement from the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration:

  • “The flyovers are being conducted as part of security operations for Super Bowl LIII and will measure naturally occurring background radiation. …”
  • “The helicopter will fly in a grid pattern over the areas at 150 feet or higher at a speed of approximately 80 mph. Flyovers will occur only during daylight hours and are estimated to take roughly three hours to complete per area.
  • “The measurement of naturally occurring radiation to establish baseline levels is a normal part of security and emergency preparedness. NNSA is making the public aware of the upcoming flights so that people who see the low-flying aircraft are not alarmed.”

Drone operators who get caught face a civil fine that could exceed $20,000, plus potential criminal prosecution, according to the FAA’s warning. Here are the terms as spelled out by the FAA:

  • “The airspace around Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta is a ‘No Drone Zone’ for Super Bowl LIII, on Feb. 3, 2019, and during three days leading up to the event.
  • “The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will establish a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR)on game day that will prohibit drones within a 30-nautical-mile radius of the stadium up to 17,999 feet in altitude. The TFR will be in place from 5:30 p.m. to 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time. Some general aviation operations may be allowed within the TFR provided they meet specific security and operational requirements.
  • “The FAA also will restrict drone flights for one nautical mile around the stadium up to an altitude of 1,000 feet on January 31, February 1 and 2 from 10 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time, and on February 3 from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., at which time the TFR for the game takes effect.”


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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