A drone threat hovers over stadiums and arenas

A drone threat hovers over stadiums and arenas

“Technological advancements tend to outpace regulatory developments. Governments should reevaluate their regulations regarding jammers and spoofers”, says Itzik Huber, Skylock’s CEO

“A drone attack on a stadium filled with 60,000 spectators has the potential to be a game changer on the scale of 9/11 in terms of its magnitude and impact”, says Itzik Huber, CEO of Skylock, a division of the Avnon Group specialising in counter-drone technologies for the detection, verification and neutralisation of unauthorised drones.

Stadiums and arenas and large-scale events are vulnerable targets when it comes to drone threats”, explains Huber. “Present circumstances make it possible for drones to be used for terror attacks during sporting events or concerts. There could be disastrous repercussions if a drone dropped an explosive payload during a Champions League match. Such an incident could result in injuries to players, fatalities among spectators, and widespread chaos”.

There have been several instances where unapproved drones have threatened worldwide safety, delayed games, and even caused events to be cancelled due to unapproved drones.

A drone hovered above Yankee Stadium’s right field for about 15 minutes during the Yankees’ game against the Boston Red Sox in June 2022. After Metallica’s performance at Hellfest in Clisson, France, police neutralised a drone that flew too close to the festival site. The drone operator was located and arrestedA drone pilot in Ireland risked public safety by flying in restricted airspace near the Cork GAA stadium during an Ed Sheeran concert. These are just a few examples that ended fortunately without any casualties.

In October 2022, Mohammed Yassin Amrani was convicted for planning a drone attack at Camp Nou stadium during FC Barcelona vs Real Madrid game. After reaching an agreement with the public prosecutor, the defendant was convicted and sentenced to three years for self-indoctrination and self-training in terrorism.

FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium has now become the latest site to be integrated into the Catalan police’s Kuppel project, which protects airspace from irregular drone use.

A technology integration agreement was reached between the club and the government. The interior minister, Joan Ignasi Elena, explained that the Kuppel project had been successfully implemented at Barcelona-El Prat Airport and the Tarragona petrochemical complex, among other places. Using this technology, Mossos d’Esquadra police can respond quickly to drone activity in the area and prevent unauthorised flights.

In March 2023, an object hovered over St Mary’s Stadium, forcing the players to leave the pitch during Southampton’s Premier League game against Aston Villa. Such an incident has happened before during football matches. A year ago, a drone halted Brentford’s game against the Wolves for nearly 20 minutes. With the increased use of drones, specific rules are now in place to ensure safety during such events. According to John Newsham, the business development manager of the UK Football Safety Officers Association, drones pose a threat to football matches:

“Most worrying is the potential drones present for terrorist activity. Terrorists already have a whole arsenal of weapons at their disposal; as new technologies become cheaper and more readily available, drones now allow them to carry out even more horrifying attacks. Drones have become an integral part of global military life, where they have been used to launch remote attacks. The potential they have to cause devastation at football stadiums by carrying explosives or poisonous gases cannot be ignored”, Newsham wrote.

Regulatory limitations on drones

In the United States, unmanned aircraft are forbidden from flying over stadiums while games are in progress, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Flying drones in and around stadiums that seat 30,000 people or more is prohibited by law, beginning one hour before and ending one hour after the event. Biden administration officials want to extend drone detection and mitigation authority to better combat drone threats while strengthening counter-drone authorities’ capabilities.

“The use of drone jammers at sporting events is highly restricted in the USA due to regulatory limitations. Unless specifically authorised by federal enforcement agencies, the use of jammers is prohibited. Private companies are not permitted to use jammers and spoofers as they see fit”, says Huber

“In this regard, jammers and spoofers alone cannot guarantee the neutralisation of a detected drone, leaving a potential threat unresolved. Detection is merely the initial stage, and Skylock’s drone detection systems can identify drone swarms, but the following step remains unclear. Imagine, for instance, that three drones hover above a stadium. Consequently, there is no authority to neutralise them, resulting in a complete breach of the airspace above stadiums and arenas”.

“Drone countermeasures are regulated differently in different countries. While some countries completely forbid spoofing, others may prohibit jamming. Each country has its own set of regulations to address the drone threat. However, overall, there appears to be a lack of global understanding regarding the potential severity of drone threats to stadiums and arenas”, adds Huber.

More effective countermeasures against drones

Various sports leagues and legislators in the United States have supported the White House’s request for increased authority to detect and neutralise drones. By expanding the powers of the White House, it will be possible to implement more effective countermeasures against drones that may be used for malicious purposes, such as carrying explosives or conducting surveillance. The support from lawmakers and sports leagues indicates the urgency of addressing the drone threat, which has increased in recent years.

Itzik Huber concludes: “In 2018, Gatwick Airport near London, England, experienced the cancellation of hundreds of flights due to drone sightings near the runway. Similar incidents have occurred, leading governments worldwide to recognise the necessity of finding a solution for both detecting and neutralising drones to ensure airport safety”.

“Technological advancements tend to outpace regulatory developments, and sadly, it may take a catastrophic event like a drone attack on a large gathering for governments to reassess their regulations. Airspace must be considered when securing stadiums and arenas. It is imperative that drones be taken seriously as a threat”.

“Detecting and responding to drone threats, as well as preventing unauthorised drone flights, should be included in a comprehensive C-UAS plan. Physical barriers or electronic countermeasures that jam or disrupt drone signals can be used to establish no-fly zones around the venue”.

“To neutralise drone threats, electronic jamming devices and drone capture devices can be deployed to detect and track drones in the air. Collaboration with local law enforcement agencies is essential to coordinate security efforts and respond to drone threats. Security personnel should be trained to detect and respond to drone threats effectively”.

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