FAA says Miami Police used counter-drone company during Ultra that may have violated federal law

(WSVN) - With the Ultra Music Festival announcing its move out of Miami next year, 7News has learned the feds are ultra concerned about something that happened overhead during this year’s event. Brian Entin investigates.

It’s fair to say Ultra Music Festival’s first year on Virginia Key had its share of major hiccups.

A transportation fiasco sent thousands of people walking over the Rickenbacker Causeway when buses filled.

Festival attendee: “I thought this was so poorly planned out.”

And there was a brush fire that hurt no one but was certainly unsettling.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, April 2019: “Some of the worries I had before the event, unfortunately, turned out to happen during the event.”

Problems on the ground, and now 7News has learned there were also problems in the air.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating after, they say, Miami Police hired a company to keep drones out of the area.

A company, the FAA said, may have broken the law by jamming drone signals.

7News learned that drone pilots in the area, including a company hired by Ultra, were experiencing trouble controlling their drones.

In a statement to 7News, the FAA said they “looked into a report that the Miami Police Department (MPD) hired a company to provide counter-drone services during a recent music festival in Key Biscayne. MPD stopped the operations after the FAA advised the department that the use of counter-drone technologies may create possible conflicts with federal law.”

7News spoke to drone expert Ryan English via Skype.

Brian Entin: “Could this be dangerous? Jamming the signal?”

Ryan English, expert: “It could potentially hit something, or come down and crash on somebody. It is a significant legal and liability concern, definitely.”

Ryan English said jamming signals cannot only bring down drones but also interferes with emergency communications. He says it is only allowed by certain government agencies like Homeland Security.

Ryan English: “Jamming and things like that, per the FAA, is definitely interfering with an aircraft.”

Miami Police turned down 7News’ request for an on-camera interview but in an email said, “After extensive research, we have learned that Vigilant Drone Defense, Inc. was at the 2019 Ultra Music Festival for a demonstration of drone technologies.”

Miami PD said they did not hire the company but accepted their invitation to do a demo and were not aware that the technology may have been against the law.

Vigilant Drone Defense Incorporated’s website said they are based out of Los Angeles. 7News reached out to the company but did not get a response.

Ultra on Wednesday terminated its license with the City of Miami, where it has held the festival since 1999.

Organizers are in the process of finalizing another South Florida location for next year’s festival.

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