State Fair of Texas drone policy prohibits overflights, even with FAA approval
By DRONELIFE Contributing Editor Jim Magill
The State Fair of Texas has posted a media policy that prohibits all drone overflight above the festival while the fair is in session, even those that are launched from a site off the fairgrounds, and even if those flights are approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.
A spokesman has said the policy is undergoing a review for a possible revision to comply with FAA regulations, but as of Friday, September 1, the old policy was still on the Fair’s website.
According to its Guidelines for Media Participation, Fair Park, in Dallas will be a “No Drone Zone,” during the duration of the Fair, which is set to run from Sept. 29 through Oct. 22.
“The Fair, Fair Park and the entire fairgrounds are a ‘No Drone Zone.’ Per FAA regulations, Small Unmanned Aircrafts (UASs), Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UVAs), or drones are restricted in Class B Airspace which encompasses the entire downtown Dallas area and beyond,” the policy states.”
The policy points out that “UVAs, drones, and model aircrafts with cameras attached are strictly prohibited in Class B Airspace unless granted a waiver from the FAA.” However, it goes on to say that “even if granted the waiver by the FAA,” drone pilots will not by allowed to conduct overflights above the fairgrounds.
“Leading up to and during the Fair, Fair Park is under lease by the State Fair and considered private property, therefore approval from the FAA does not guarantee the right to fly above Fair Park,” the policy states. “For the safety of our guests, the State Fair, in partnership with the Dallas Police Department, will not allow drones to fly above Fair Park during the Fair.”
This policy seems to challenge the authority of the FAA, which maintains it has complete jurisdiction over the regulation of all above-ground airspace.
“The FAA is responsible for the safety of our National Airspace System. This includes all airspace from the ground up. While local laws or ordinances may restrict where drones can take off or land, they cannot restrict a drone from flying in airspace permitted by the FAA,” spokeswoman Emma Duncan said in an email.
Duncan said all approved drone flights must comply with the small drone rule, which “permits operations over people, under certain circumstances, depending on the level of risk that a drone poses to people on the ground.”
In an Sept. 1 interview, Fair Security Director Jeffrey Cotner said the Fair was working with the FAA to update its media guidelines. “Nobody wants to violate anybody’s constitutional privileges. We don’t go into that,” he said.
A Dallas Police spokeswoman declined to comment on its enforcement of the State Fair’s media policy.
“You would have to reach out to the State Fair, it’s totally the state fair’s policy,” DPD Senior Corporal Melinda Gutierrez said in an interview. She said Fair officials on site have the primary responsibility for enforcing the Fair’s policies.
“If there’s an issue, they’re the ones that approach the individuals that are flying the drones. Last year we did have some drone fliers and their reps politely asked them to stop flying the drones and we’ve never had an issue with them complying,” Gutierrez said.
In an email statement, Cotner discussed how difficult it would be for a drone pilot to safely operate a drone, launched from a location off the grounds of Fair Park, to fly over the fairgrounds.
“The Fair environment is dynamic and constantly changing, evolving,” he said. Cotner noted that such drones typically “circle, hover and do not transit point-to-point to avoid flyovers,” putting them at risk of having sustained flight over people within an open-air assembly such as the Fair.
“The State Fair is an overwhelmingly dense, outside event with limited cover,” he said. “Even though the remote pilot may have FAA clearance to operate in the airspace, the UAV are overflying non-participants in a manner not compliant with Part 107 in regards to safety or taking a risk-based approach toward their protection.”
Established in 1886, the State Fair of Texas is the longest-running fair in the nation, as well as one of the largest. Located in Fair Park near downtown Dallas, home to the iconic Big Tex statue and Cotton Bowl Stadium, 25 miles from the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, the Fair lies within one of the most heavily regulated airspaces in the country.
Recently, the Fair amended its policy regarding bringing drones onto the fairgrounds. The old policy posted on its website prohibited “the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), commonly known as drones, within the 277 acres of Fair Park without prior written approval of State Fair’s Public Relations Department.”
In addition, the policy prohibited “the use of all remote-controlled devices of any type, including, but not limited to, aircraft, drones, quad-copters, cars or trucks, on or above (italics added) property owned, leased or controlled by the Fair.”
The policy further stated that drone operations conducted “without prior written consent of the State Fair of Texas or proper law enforcement authority will result in the confiscation of all related materials, you being removed from Fair property, and/or prosecution under Texas law.”
In April 2022, a federal judge struck down the principal Texas law prohibiting certain drone operations over private property on the grounds that some of its provisions violated First Amendment freedoms.
In late August of this year, the Fair amended the posting regarding drone operations on the fairgrounds to reflect the change in the law. The new post states that “drones, quad-copters and other remote-controlled devices are not allowed on the fairgrounds, unless granted a waiver from the FAA.”
The Fair makes one exception to the rule regarding carrying drones onto the fairgrounds. “Registered vendors can sell these types of devices on the fairgrounds without their battery packs.”
Unlike the former regulations, the new rules don’t make a direct reference to prosecution under state law, instead stating that “individuals violating State Fair rules are subject to ejection from the grounds and/or criminal enforcement of applicable statutes.”
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Jim Magill is a Houston-based writer with almost a quarter-century of experience covering technical and economic developments in the oil and gas industry. After retiring in December 2019 as a senior editor with S&P Global Platts, Jim began writing about emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, robots and drones, and the ways in which they’re contributing to our society. In addition to DroneLife, Jim is a contributor to Forbes.com and his work has appeared in the Houston Chronicle, U.S. News & World Report, and Unmanned Systems, a publication of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.
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