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Drone Pilot Facing Up To 4 Years in Prison After Being Charged by US Attorney’s Office

What can we learn from this situation:

As with the other articles that I have written, I will leave the decisions of fault or guilt to the authorities. I prefer to share these incidents and findings to highlight what we may learn and share as best practices for drone pilots to utilize and help us avoid finding ourselves in a similar situation. Let’s start with the charges and fill in the details of what happened in case you were not aware.

FAA No Drone Zone Image for Flight Restrictions, TFRs.
Sporting Event No Drone Zone Image

The Who, What, When, and Where:

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland, Matthew Hebert, age 44, of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, was charged with three federal felony counts for illegally flying a drone. The incident took place January 28, 2024, as Hebert flew his drone over M&T Bank stadium during the National Football League’s AFC Championship game in Baltimore. The incursion of an unidentified and unapproved drone was deemed a serious enough threat that NFL Security temporarily suspended the game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Kansas City Chiefs.

Violating a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR):

The airspace for this AFC Championship Game was under an FAA Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR). A TFR restricts certain aircraft and UAS from operating within a 3 NM radius of the stadium. The flight restriction is intended to protect the large crowds. It is standard practice for the FAA to issue a Temporary Flight Restriction for sporting events and venues. It is typically issued one hour before the start of the event until one hour after the event ends.

“Operating a drone requires users to act responsibly and educate themselves on when and how to use them safely,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge R. Joseph Rothrock of the FBI's Baltimore Field Office. “The FBI would like to remind the public of the potential dangers of operating a drone in violation of federal laws and regulations. The reckless operation of a UAS in the vicinity of a large crowd can be dangerous to the public, as well as interfere with other law enforcement and security operations.”

Drone Operator’s Statement:

Hebert said he did not know about the restrictions, according to the statement. As detailed in the affidavit, on past occasions, the DJI application prevented him from operating the UAS due to flight restrictions and Hebert relied exclusively on the DJI application to tell him if he was not allowed to fly the UAS. The affidavit alleges that on January 28, 2024, Hebert assumed he was allowed to fly his UAS since the DJI application did not prevent him from doing so.

While operating the drone, he took six photos and might have taken a video, according to the affidavit. He was not aware that he disrupted the game until he was questioned by a trooper who came to him during the game.

Other Violations:

In addition to violating the FAA TFR, Hebert did not possess a Remote Pilot Certificate to operate the drone. The aircraft was not registered.

Authorities say Hebert violated the national defense airspace and operated the drone without a certificate. “Illegally operating drones poses a significant security risk that will lead to federal charges,” United States Attorney Erek L. Barron said in a statement.

If convicted, Hebert could face up to three years in prison for operating an unregistered drone and not having a certificate. He could also face up to one year in prison for breaching the United States National Defense Airspace.

His initial arraignment will be scheduled at a later date, according to the press release.

What Can We Learn:

I am sure many of us can recognize several areas that could be key takeaways from this situation. I am going to use it as an opportunity to reinforce the responsibility to check Notice to Air Missions (NOTAMs) as well as Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs). This must happen prior to any drone flight.

Here is the FAA link to review TFRs/NOTAMs.

From this website, you can view TFRs by State. You can also select on the NOTAM SEARCH button at the top. This takes you to a website to view NOTAMs by Airport Code.

I hope you found this helpful. If we can help you or your organization with your drone training or sUAS compliance, please contact Carolina Drone Academy.

U.S. Attorney’s Office Press Release

To read more about flying drones for fun:

About Carolina Drone Academy

Carolina Drone Academy provides in-person award winning drone pilot training. We provide drone training across many sectors including the US Military, law enforcement, media and advertising companies, colleges, engineering, construction, and other government agencies.


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