Hosted each April in Indio, California, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is a massive event that attracts attendees and performers from across the world the likes of Harry Styles, Billie Eilish, and The Weeknd.
If you have scored tickets to Coachella, you may wonder if you can bring your drone to take videos and photos. After all, who wouldn’t want to snap a closeup of a Hollywood icon or two?
Unfortunately, festival attendees are not allowed to fly drones. Only a limited number of commercial pilots can fly drones at Coachella. Police officers have also been approved to use drones for surveillance purposes.
Keep reading to learn more about why drones have been banned from Coachella and what punishments you may face if you decide to bend the rules.
What is Coachella?
If you aren’t familiar with Coachella (also known simply as “Chella”), it’s an annual music festival hosted each year at the Empire Polo Club, about two hours southeast of Los Angeles, California.
First founded in 1999, Coachella has grown massively over the past few decades. Today, the event draws 750,000 people and typically sells out in a little more than an hour.
In the past, the festival has hosted celebrities like Beyoncé, Snoop Dog, and Prince.
Are drones allowed at Coachella?
Because of the volume of people funneling through the Empire Polo Club, festival organizers must work hand-in-hand with law enforcement agencies to enforce safety measures. One of these safety measures is a no-tolerance policy for drones.
Festival organizers cracked down on this rule after the 2017 shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada. During this event, the gunman released 1,000 bullets, killing 60 people.
In an effort to make Coachella safer, festival organizers implemented a series of strict safety protocols in 2018.
Why aren’t drones allowed at Coachella?
If operated recklessly, drones can be quite dangerous.
Since most popular drone models weigh at least three pounds, a fall from 400 feet in the air could easily kill someone.
Unintentional collisions could also result in less grave, though still serious, consequences such as:
- Deep lacerations
- Eye injuries
- Potential broken bones
To add insult to injury, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does not require that hobbyists purchase liability insurance. Alas, if a drone were to cause an injury during a festival like Coachella, the festival organizers may potentially be liable.
To eliminate these risks, drones have been banned from the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
Drones as a terrorist threat
Drones can also be used maliciously, especially in crowds.
For example, a terrorist can use a drone to drop a bomb or spray poisonous gas over a large group of people.
Because of this, the FAA prohibits flying drones in and around stadiums that seat 30,000 people or more. This rule applies to one hour before and one hour after the scheduled time of:
- Major League Baseball games
- National Football League games
- NCAA Division One football games
- NASCAR Sprint Cup, Indy Cup, and Champ Series Race
Considering that Coachella hosts upwards of 750,000 people, it makes sense that event organizers prohibit guests from flying drones on festival grounds.
Who can fly drones at Coachella?
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Though attendees cannot fly drones at Coachella, festival organizers have approved drones for two specific uses:
- Commercial Purposes — At Coachella, a limited number of commercial pilots are allowed to fly drones to capture photos and videos. In previous years, festival organizers have also worked with experienced pilots to provide a synchronized drone show for entertainment.
- Police Surveillance — During the event, police officers often use drones instead of helicopters for surveillance purposes. This option is more economical.
What happens if I bring a drone to Coachella?
When you arrive at Coachella, you will be asked to walk through a metal detector. Security guards will then conduct bag checks to look for prohibited items.
Prohibited items run the gamut from hula hoops to glow sticks to professional cameras. Drones are considered contraband as well.
If you attempt to bring a drone to Coachella, it will be confiscated upon entry. Festival organizers also have the authority to refuse admission to the event or require ticket holders to leave the event without a refund.
Considering the mind-boggling expense of Coachella tickets (nearly $10,000 for elite packages), that’s a steep price to pay for some aerial footage.
Fines and penalties for flying a drone at Coachella
If somehow you do smuggle a drone into Coachella, what fines and penalties may you face?
In 2018, the Indio City Council approved a citation schedule for drone safety violations. The penalties range from $25 for flying a drone while intoxicated to $100 for interfering with emergency responders.
However, as previously mentioned, the biggest penalty for flying a drone at Coachella is being asked to leave the event. Being forcibly removed could cost you thousands of dollars in tickets, lodging, and travel expenses.
Drone laws in California
Coachella has a zero-tolerance policy for drones. If you try to push the boundaries, you risk being fined, kicked out of the festival, and losing your drone all in one fell swoop.
The good news? California is fairly receptive to drone hobbyists and professionals alike.
» MORE: Drone Laws in California
However, there are some rules you should be aware of before you take to the sky. Though I have written an in-depth guide to drone laws in California, I offer a brief synopsis below.
In California, you cannot:
- Fly drones near natural preserves, cultural preserves, or wilderness areas
- Photo people “in areas where there is an expectation of privacy without the individual’s permission”
- Conduct surveillance with your drone
- Operate a drone when under the influence
- Fly your drone in reduced visibility
- Fly near sensitive infrastructure like busy roadways, prisons, and power stations
- Fly your drone over crowds
- Fly your drone over 400 feet
- Fly your drone within five miles of an airport
Other federal, state, and municipal restrictions apply. Be sure to always check drone laws before flying.