Author: Michael Buchkoski
During pregame, football officiating crews perform essential duties such as inspecting players, communicating with coaches, and coordinating with game administrators. This ensures all participants know their responsibilities and the game begins on time. Another opportunity also exists before the game begins: meeting the drone pilot filming the game. Traditionally, teams filmed games using endzone and sideline cameras. Now, schools are turning to drone videography which provides a whole new view of the field. However, before any drone takes to flight at a football stadium, many requirements and regulations must be followed.
Most paramount, the host school district must provide written guidance for drone operations during any regular season contest per CHSAA policy. While a number of schools in Colorado have authorized drone operations, some have not. In making this decision, the school district considers risk mitigation factors, insurance liability, and overall cost. Feedback from coaches and players may also influence the decision as drone videography offers unique perspectives during all phases of the game.
With preapproval from the host school district, regulation compliance and onsite safety are the absolute responsibility of the drone pilot. Each FAA-certified pilot must be knowledgeable in aviation regulations, effects of weather, different types of airspace, and operational requirements. Drone pilots must maintain visual line of sight with their aircraft at all times. Per FAA regulation, drones cannot be flown over any people. Based on the stadium layout, most pilots will be positioned off of the sideline nearest an endzone. This location separates the pilot from any crowds and optimizes drone landings and takeoffs during battery changes.
Drone operations near airports and at night are generally prohibited by the FAA. So how can drone pilots film an evening football game near a local airport in the greater Denver area? The answer is an FAA waiver. Pilots must submit a comprehensive proposal, a waiver, to the FAA describing additional safety measures while flying at night or close to an airport. For example, at night drones must be equipped with strobe lights that are visible from over three miles away. Additionally, pilots are required to have another person, a visual observer, watching the drone at all times. The bottom line is operational safety.
The ‘old school’ way of filming football games is changing and drones are becoming a large part of the change. Safe drone operations begin well before any football game. Drone pilots must be certified with the FAA and obtain approval from the host school district. During the game, all operational requirements and regulations must be followed. As an official, if you have an extra moment before the game, stop by and meet the drone pilot.
About the Author: Michael P. Buchkoski is an active member of DFOA and a 3rd year official. As both a private pilot and commercial drone pilot, Michael enjoys all aspects of aviation. He is also the Vice President of Operations of Angel Hawk, a Denver-based drone service company specializing in drone videography for high school athletic events throughout Colorado. He is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.