The FAA’s Plan to Stop Drones From Spoiling the Super Bowl

We dive into that, Airbus’ Italian air taxi ambitions, EHang’s low price tag, and plenty more in this week’s Future of FLYING newsletter.

Super Bowl drones

Allegiant Stadium, home to the Las Vegas Raiders, will host Super Bowl LVIII between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, February 11. [Courtesy: Las Vegas Raiders]

Hello, and welcome to the Future of FLYING newsletter, our weekly look at the biggest stories in emerging aviation technology. From low-altitude drones to high-flying rockets at the edge of the atmosphere, we’ll take you on a tour of the modern flying world to help you make sense of it all.

Now for this week’s top story:

NFL Drone Incursions Prompt Super Bowl Flight Restrictions

(Courtesy: Las Vegas Raiders)

What happened? A recent incident involving a rogue drone pilot at an NFL game has drawn the attention of the FAA, which announced a temporary flight restriction (TFR) within 2 nm of Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, the venue for Super Bowl LVIII between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.

The incident: A Pennsylvania man faces felony federal charges and up to four years in prison for flying an unlicensed drone at the AFC championship game on January 28, pitting the Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. The pilot also did not possess a remote pilot certificate.

TFRs around stadiums are standard during NFL regular-season and playoff games since 9/11, typically restricting drones that fly at or below 3,000 feet agl within 3 nm of any venue that seats 30,000 or more. But stadiums are often ill-equipped to enforce the rules, and only the FBI and Department of Homeland Security have the authority to jam or bring the drones down.

Super Bowl Security: Given a rise in drone-related incursions, the FAA this week outlined the TFR in place around Allegiant Stadium and the surrounding area. Flights of all kinds will be heavily restricted on game day, with various other limitations in place throughout the week. The agency also released guidelines for GA pilots and other pilots.

Like traditional pilots, drone pilots who enter the TFR without permission could face criminal prosecution or fines in excess of $30,000, or their drone may be confiscated. The worries are not unfounded. During Super Bowl LIII between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams in 2019, a drone nearly caused a midair collision with Air Force F-16s over Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Quick quote: “Without a change in federal law, mass gatherings will remain at risk from malicious and unauthorized drone operations. For more than a year, we have been calling for passage of the bipartisan Safeguarding the Homeland from the Threats Posed by Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act, which would empower state and local law enforcement to safely mitigate drones…It’s time for Congress to act,” the NFL said in a statement to FLYING.

My take: The bill the NFL spokesperson is referring to, introduced in May, would extend FBI and DHS drone takedown authority to officials who can act more quickly, or who may even be on-site. The legislation has been endorsed by the NFL, MLB, NASCAR, and NCAA.

And given how common the issue has become, the bill may be necessary. Cathy Lanier, NFL chief of security, estimated there were some 2,500 drone-related incursions over stadiums during the league’s 2022 season—nearly double the 1,300 such incidents the season prior. None of these have resulted in injury. But a few drones have dropped items such as leaflets into crowds of spectators, raising alarm bells about what else they could carry.

Officials are also wary of rogue drones at airports. Occasionally, these have led to mass flight delays or cancellations, including at the two largest airports in the U.K. Increasingly, drones have been reported to smuggle contraband or weapons into prisons or across the U.S. southern border.

In Other News…

Airbus Charts Path for Electric Air Taxi Rollout in Italy

(Courtesy: Airbus)

What happened? The manufacturer of popular aircraft such as the A320 family also has its sights set on advanced air mobility (AAM). Airbus this week added two new partners to its collaboration with ITA Airways, the flag carrier of Italy, with an eye toward standing up an AAM ecosystem in the Mediterranean country, including electric aircraft, chargers, and vertiports.

Gli aerotaxi: That’s Italian for “the air taxis,” and Airbus’ electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) CityAirbus NextGen could fly in the country in the next few years. The manufacturer expects to obtain European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) CS-23 certification for the air taxi in 2025, it has said previously.

On February 1, Airbus and ITA added vertiport operator UrbanV and green energy firm Enel—which will assist airfields with the transition to electric infrastructure—to the partnership. Without a vast network of electric aircraft chargers and vertiports, air taxis will have a difficult time scaling. The electric ground vehicle industry has addressed the issue by installing universally accessible systems nationwide.

Air Taxi Manufacturer EHang Reveals Low $330K Price Tag for Flagship Model

(Courtesy: EHang)

What happened? Chinese eVTOL manufacturer EHang—which in October obtained the world's first type certificate for an air taxi, its flagship EH216-S—plans to sell the aircraft for just $330,000 in China. Though the price tag is only intended for the firm’s home country, EHang intends to expand nationwide as early as this year, and it could undercut competitors.

The air taxi landscape: Outside of Lilium and its $10 million Pioneer Edition Jet, few of EHang’s competitors have publicly stated price tags for their air taxi designs. But using available information and a bit of math, it’s possible to estimate where EHang stands.

United Airlines’ purchase of up to 200 Archer Aviation Midnight aircraft for $1 billion, for example, equates to $5 million per unit. Per a 2021 investor presentation, rival Joby Aviation estimated its S4 will cost about $1.5 million each to produce. And based on previously announced aircraft orders, Beta Technologies’ Alia sells for about $4 million. Other players are also looking in this range, which is in a different stratosphere from EHang’s $330,000 list price.

And a Few More Headlines:

  • Archer has begun building three type-conforming Midnight aircraft to use in for-credit FAA testing later this year.
  • Space tourism business Virgin Galactic is grounded by the FAA after an alignment pin detached during its latest mission.
  • Beta and Bristow Group demonstrated the former’s Alia conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) aircraft.
  • Hybrid-electric airplane manufacturer Heart Aerospace raised $107 million in a series B round.
  • Drone racing has been confirmed as an event at The World Games 2025, the lesser-known sibling of the Olympic Games.

On the Horizon…

There’s more drone-related legislation making its way onto Capitol Hill.

The Drone Evaluation to Eliminate Cyber Threats Act of 2024 (DETECT Act), introduced Wednesday by Senators Mark Warner (D-Va.) and John Thune (R-S.C.), calls on the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) within the Department of Commerce to create cybersecurity guidelines for government use of drones.

Among other things, DETECT would set cybersecurity guidelines for all U.S. government agencies, prohibiting them from acquiring drones that don’t fit the standards. It also directs the Office of Management and Budget to enforce the rules whenever they are codified. Warner and Thune previously introduced several bills taking aim at the perceived threat of drones manufactured in China.

The FAA too has its eye on drones. The regulator on Thursday released its final report from the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Detection and Mitigating Systems Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC). That’s a mouthful, but essentially, the ARC’s recommendations could align stakeholders in regards to the way they monitor drones and take down rogue aircraft. The ARC comprises representatives from more than 50 groups in the crewed and uncrewed aviation communities, government entities, law enforcement, subject matter experts, and others.

While the final UAS Detecting and Mitigating Systems report was welcomed with open arms by groups such as the Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), the FAA still awaits reauthorization. This week, members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee called on new FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker to “pick up the slack,” arguing that portions of the House-approved bill could be implemented by the agency without congressional authority.

Mark Your Calendars

Each week, I’ll be running through a list of upcoming industry events. The 11th Annual eVTOL Symposium wrapped up Thursday in Silicon Valley, California, but here are a few conferences to keep an eye on:

Tweet of the Week

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I want to hear your questions, comments, concerns, and criticisms about everything in the modern flying space, whether they’re about a new drone you just bought or the future of space exploration. Reach out to or tweet me @jack_daleo with your thoughts.

Jack is a staff writer covering advanced air mobility, including everything from drones to unmanned aircraft systems to space travel—and a whole lot more. He spent close to two years reporting on drone delivery for FreightWaves, covering the biggest news and developments in the space and connecting with industry executives and experts. Jack is also a basketball aficionado, a frequent traveler and a lover of all things logistics.

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