Yes! You can fly a Drone in a TFR. (...with a little homework!)

UPAA Blog 2023-24 #4 - 10/19/23


This is the second in a series of articles on drones. See the first here.


The era of consumer drones arguably began in 2013 with the the first DJI Phantom. In only 10 years drone tech and regulations have evolved and continue to evolve at a remarkable pace. This series will feature new tech and new opportunities available to drone pilots today. In this article, two UPAA members share their experience obtaining permission to fly a drone inside the Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) in place around certain major sports events. See this PDF for more info.-Ed




(Text and photos by Nate Edwards, Brigham Young University)


Flying a drone for your university is pretty awesome. My wife thinks it's cute that I get to fly my “remote control toy” for work (she is actually the one that strongly suggested I get my Part 107 license and buy a drone years ago when I had no desire to.) 


We used to have a pretty strong no drone policy on our campus, and we still do, to a certain extent. There are only a handful of people who are authorized to fly on campus here at Brigham Young University, and I have the privilege to be one of those people. BYU is almost completely located within Class D airspace, which means I have to get LAANC approval every time I fly on campus. I’ve worked very closely with our Risk Management department (who is in charge of drone flights on our campus) to develop a strong relationship of trust.



One of the rules I live by when flying a drone is to always go in the front door. I want people to know I am there, what my intentions are, and work with them to get the proper approvals and permissions. I don't ever want to go rogue and just hope I don't get caught. That will damage trust and relationships, which can prevent you from further cooperation, access and support down the road. I want to build and strengthen relationships. When life is approached that way, you gain advocates who will fight with you to get things accomplished. That is exactly what happened for me to get to this point.



Flying a drone during a football game here at BYU is something I‘ve wanted to do for a long time. However, you can’t simply throw a drone in the air whenever you want to get video or photos of whatever you want. Even if you are off campus and flying as a hobbyist, there are FEDERAL regulations that control airspace, and for good reason.


For example, during an NCAA football game, there is what is called a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) put in place (meaning nobody can fly anything within 3 nautical miles of a football stadium with a capacity of 30,000 people or more from an hour before to an hour after the game.) To be able to fly in that TFR, you need to be authorized, otherwise, you can get a pretty healthy fine (up to $100,000) and possible time in federal prison! If you are doing a flyover with your F22 fighter jet or just wanting to take your little handheld drone up in the air, the authorization process is the same. 


I’m not going to go over all my many struggles with the process of trying to fly in a TFR with the FAA, TSA, FBI, CIA, IRS, Homeland Security, The Pentagon, etc. Instead, I will just focus on the process to apply for a waiver so you can fly. This is the article I wish I had when I was trying to fly a drone at a home football game over 3 years ago. This has been the first year I’ve been able to fly during our football season and it was worth the effort. It adds such a unique perspective and dynamic to telling the story of a football game, and it gives us great assets for marketing, recruiting, etc.


It's actually a pretty simple process once you know where to go. And once you have done it, it goes pretty quick after that.



This is not a typical waiver you get through the FAA Drone Zone. This particular waiver can be applied for in the link below. Please note, you must have your Part 107 certification to be able to apply for this waiver.


I don't know why the government makes things so difficult, and this website is no exception. There is not much guidance in how to fill it out. They just assume you know all the answers. I just filled it out through trial and error and only got denied in the process a handful of times, but eventually I got it figured out.


Before you begin, here is a list of things you will need:


1- Letter of Support-  You need to get a letter of support from someone in your athletics department who would be in a position to grant authorization, and the person on campus who is in charge of requesting and authorizing flyovers during a football game (this is probably the most important signature you will get). I also included our Risk Management department on this letter and worked with them and our campus police very closely in the process. I felt it strengthened my case to have all three signatures and approval on this letter. Make sure to also include their email address and phone numbers. I got rejected once because I didn't have their phone numbers on the letter.



2- Drone Flight Proposal- This is a proposal from you to them of what, why, where, and when you want authorization to fly in the TFR. 



3- Map- I just went on the FAA Visualize It page (link below) and took a screenshot of the location that I wanted to fly in. It gives the coordinates of where the stadium is located. I don't know how necessary this is, but I included it, and I got approved, so I’m keeping it in there.


4- Flight Plan- With that same map, you will need to create a flight plan that shows your flight area, flight path, and your launch/recovery sites. I just created this quickly in Photoshop. It’s a good idea to do some dry runs when there is no TFR in effect so you know good locations outside your stadium that work for the launch/recovery sites and safe flight paths. You may have to adjust after your first game because you may find out there are a lot of people around one of your launch/recovery sites that you want to avoid.



5- Remote Pilot License- Make sure to attach a copy of your Remote Pilot License with the certificate number.


6- Photos- And last of all, you will want to include photos of your drone’s registration number, serial number, and remote ID number.


I have a folder on my computer named “what to include” with all of these things inside so I can have a quick easy process each time I apply for another waiver. 



You will need to apply for a new waiver for each football game, and you can’t apply earlier than 30 days out. I learned this the hard way as well. I thought it would be great to get a blanket waiver for the whole football season and I would apply early in the summer so I didn't have to worry about it later. Doesn’t work that way.


Once you have all of these elements ready to go, you can begin to fill out the waiver application online. If you don't already have an account, make sure to create one. Once you have logged in click the “New Request” tab. 




Choose Sporting Event under the dropdown menu. Choose the Unmanned Aircraft System then submit. The next window that comes up has tabs along the top: Summary. Proponent. Itinerary. Aircraft. Manifest. Security Stmt. Documents. I will go briefly through each one of these, as you will need to fill them all out.



This is all self-explanatory. Just fill out the information.




Waiver Subtype: UAS-SPT

Date Information: Put the date of the football game.

Event Name: NCAA Football Game

Event Venue: Select your stadium

Flight Altitude: You still have to fly below 400ft AGL

Purpose/Comments: This one is strange. For some reason there is no option that seems to fit what we are actually doing. I put Broadcast Event once, and they changed it to Venue Operations Survey, so that's what I select now.




This is all pretty self-explanatory as well. This is where you need your FAA Registration number, the drone serial number/ID number, and the remote ID number for your drone. If you don't know where to find them, check your manufacturer's website. When you have it all filled out, click Add UAS and you will see it added in the box below.




Click Add Person and fill out all the information. This is where you will enter your SSN, Passport number and Part 107 Certification number.




Now gather together all of the documents I mentioned before in Adobe Acrobat and create one single PDF with all of the letters, map, images, etc. to upload.




This will give you an overview of everything you entered. I screenshot this page so I can copy and paste the info later when I fill out this waiver the next time. 



Once it’s all filled out, hit Submit and pray that it works!


A side note: after I got approved for my first game, I got denied for the second game even though all the information and documentation was the same. I have no idea why. So, I decided to show them, and didn't change a thing, resubmitted the same application and it got approved! (I guess I did show them!) It may just depend on who is working that day and if they are in a good mood or not.



As though that wasn't enough of a process, once it is approved, you need to figure out how to unlock the geo zone on your drone. Typically, if a TFR is active, your drone will not even let you fly. It is grounded. You need to have the drone manufacturer essentially unlock the drone for you to be able to fly in certain areas. We have been using a DJI Mavic 3 Cine. I am not going to go over the entire process of unlocking the geofence on your drone. DJI already made videos to help you with that. It is a little bit of a process the first time through, but after you do it once, it is pretty simple. 


For DJI, you will need to go to the DJI Fly Safe website:



Essentially you have to upload your waiver to DJI so they know you have the proper authorization. They will then approve it and you can download the certificate to your drone that will unlock that geo zone.


A brief overview of how to do that would be to create a DJI account if you don't already have one on the DJI FlySafe website and begin a New Unlock Request. The first time, you will need to submit a letter to DJI with official letterhead from the university. Honestly I don't know exactly what they want in this letter, but this is what I did, and it worked.



Since a TFR is temporary, it won't naturally show up on the map, so you will need to choose a Custom Unlocking, and find your stadium on the map and draw a circle around the stadium and where you want to fly. Put in all the other info needed (make sure you get the correct date because your drone will only be unlocked for that time) and upload your authorization letter from the FAA.




Once it gets approved by DJI, you will need to download the certificate onto your drone. Again, just watch the video for specific details on how to do it. I had a problem with accidentally submitting the wrong serial number for the first football game this season for the drone we were using, and it wouldn't unlock, and I was AT THE FOOTBALL GAME ready to fly soon! I was really stressed that I wouldn't be able to get it to work. So I resubmitted everything on the Fly Safe website with the correct serial number and they actually approved it within 10 minutes, and it all worked out.



I hope this information has been helpful and makes your navigation through flying during a TFR at your home football stadium a little easier. I look forward to seeing more stadium drone shots! Just remember in this process, relationships are key. Be sure to respect and work closely with those who are in charge of keeping the campus community safe, and they will become your advocate and fight with you to make things happen. I also made sure to give large prints from the first game I was able to fly to some of those involved in making this happen and made sure to express my appreciation. Kindness and gratitude go a long way.



SIDEBAR: James Brosher - Indiana University



(text and photos by James Brosher)


James Brosher is a staff photographer at Indiana University Bloomington and also went through the process to get a waiver to fly a drone for IU's home opener football game against Ohio State.


At IU we are very lucky to have a great partnership with our colleagues in public safety, the group that includes the IU Police Department. They have their own drone program that they utilize for special events including home football games. Knowing this going into the waiver process, I started working with them as soon as I submitted the waiver application to make sure we could coordinate our drone flights to ensure safe separation. On the morning of the game, public safety organized a drone pilot meeting with their pilots, me and the crew from CBS who were also operating a drone for low-altitude aerial live shots for the television broadcast. There was also a F-16 flyover of the stadium prior to kickoff – a rarity at IU home football games – that all the drone pilots had to account for as well. During the game, we established a group text thread with all the drone pilots where we coordinated our flights. In order to avoid the CBS crew, we ended up flying between 250-400 ft AGL for the majority of the game at the southeast corner of the stadium. I would have liked to be lower and moved around a bit more, but in the end it was better to be safe than sorry when flying a drone around such a large gathering of people.


Video file
James maximized the opportunity by also getting some video, including this cool hyperlapse.


Having buy-in from the university is the most critical part of the process. Without an official letter on university letterhead from someone at your school who is on the TSA’s Sporting Event list (also referred to as an “approved signer”) your application will get rejected.


My first application was rejected because the Senior Associate Athletic Director who we had used a letter from in this process in 2021 was no longer on the TSA’s list. The rejection kicked off about a day of emailing and calling around IU’s athletics and public safety departments trying to find who the approved signers are. In the end, I called the TSA and they were able to give me three names – one of whom I had asked earlier in the week but did not know he was on their list. Once I had his letter, my waiver application was approved within two business days.



Pro tip: if you anticipate flying at more than one game a season, have your TSA approved signer write a blanket letter for the entire year. You will still need to apply for individual waivers before each game, but you can use the same letter as part of the application.


Originally, we had planned to take off and fly from an area near one of the tailgating fields on campus. However, after the pre-flight meeting we decided to take off and land from the same area as the public safety drone pilots. This allowed us to coordinate in real-time with them as we flew. And, most importantly, they had bottled water and snacks. Alex Kumar, one of our photographers and drone pilots, was my visual observer for the day. I recommend working with a VO in situations like this if for nothing else to have someone to deal with people who might walk up to you while you’re trying to fly.


IU is not known as a football powerhouse so the opportunities to capture the stadium full or at near full capacity are rare. Being that this was the home opener and against Ohio State made for a perfect storm to get shots that we otherwise would not have an opportunity to capture.



As a rule of thumb when we fly at signature events (commencement, Little 500, outdoor festivals on campus, etc.) we always put together a PDF pre-flight planning document outlining who we are, what we are doing and where we plan to do it. We make sure to send this out a couple days before the event to any one we think might remotely be involved in the event – IU Police Department, IU Ceremonies, Office of the President, etc. – in hopes that we won’t have someone roll up on us during the event demanding documentation.


(photo by Alex Kumar/Indiana University) DJI Mavic 3 Pro Cine drone grounded during the F-16 flyover. 


"Getting my drone stuck in a tree wasn't the worst thing that happened to me on the job. But it was defnitely up there." Thanks for reading the Blog. We welcome your comments, suggestions and jokes. Contact editor Matt Cashore, Follow UPAA on Instagram!