Idea of drones over Md., Va. school sports shot down

WASHINGTON– Will D.C.-area school sports fans see drones overhead this fall? Not likely, it seems, amid new recommendations and rules from local sports rule-makers.

Virginia high school sports coaches and school administrators are being advised not to allow drones around sporting events or other Virginia High School League activities. Drones have been banned entirely this fall from Maryland public school state tournament contests.

The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association has officially added the ban to its state tournament policies for the upcoming season.

“In the interest of public safety and competitive equity, the use of unmanned aircraft systems (drones) is prohibited during MPSSAA district, region, and state tournament competition. Unmanned aircraft systems may not operate in airspace over host school grounds or facilities conducting MPSSAA events,” this fall’s state tournament guidelines say.

The Virginia High School League said in a message to schools this week that it recommends following Federal Aviation Administration guidelines limiting drone use around major sporting events, even at VHSL games with few participants or spectators.

The VHSL, which is the governing body for public high school sports and competitive high school activities in Virginia, suggests drones be prohibited from one hour before the start of a game or event to one hour after it is over.

“Based on safety concerns VHSL staff recommends adherence to these regulations with the addition that there be no restriction on seating capacity, and includes all VHSL events (scrimmages, jamborees, benefit, regular and postseason contests),” the message says.

A VHSL spokesman says the newly included recommendation is an attempt to be proactive about dealing with drone use by Virginia schools, since it has become an issue at schools in other states.  The National Federation of High School Sports said last year that football programs have used drones in at least six states to capture footage that can be used for coaching purposes or for creating highlight reels.

There are significant restrictions on drone use in the immediate D.C. area, including a complete FAA ban on flights within ten miles of Washington. There are separate bans on flying a drone within five miles of any airport, even when operated under rules for recreational model aircraft. It is not clear whether use of a drone by a coach or student affiliated with a public school would fall under rules for governmental flights.

This week, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that the Broward County Athletic Association banned drone use at all high school games “to ensure the health, welfare and safety of players, officials and spectators.” The decision does not impact practices, and other schools in Florida are still permitted to use drones during the regular season.

The Minnesota State High School League voted this month to ban drone use at all postseason tournament venues, and this spring, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s board voted to ban all drones from the area in or around all contests.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up