In this blog post, we reveal the different New York City (NYC) drone laws. Whether you are Part 107 certified or a hobbyist pilot, this post will help you determine everything you need to know for flying drones in NYC.
Let’s get familiar with the main areas to consider before you start flying drones in NYC. We will also look into the three main reasons why it is incredibly difficult to fly a drone in New York City (NYC) legally.
New York City might be one of the best cities in the world. But it is also the most populous. With 8.6 million people residing here, NYC has a population density of 25,000 people/sq. mi – which is almost 270 times the national population density of 93 persons / sq. mi.
With such a dense population, it is tough for drone pilots to comply with FAA’s flying over people rule. The FAA mandates that you cannot fly over people unless, of course, those people are involved in the drone operation (like the RPIC or the Visual Observer).
The second problem is that large areas of New York City fall under Class B Airspace. Bigger airports with large runways and controlled towers fall under this airspace. Both JFK and LaGuardia are Class B Airports.
It is not possible to fly in Class B Airspace unless you have prior authorization from Air Traffic Control (ATC). This applies to both commercial and hobby flights.
Both commercial and hobby drone flyers must now have permission to fly in any controlled airspace. Both can use LAANC to gain that permission at JFK, but LGA is not LAANC active yet.
So areas under LGA ATC control can only be accessed via a 107.41 Airspace Authorization through the FAA Drone Zone.
And as of now, that is only available for commercial operators. So this essentially shuts all of LGA down for hobbyists unless they fly at a Recreational Flyer Fixed Site. And there is only one in LGA airspace.
This snapshot shows the airspace in New York. As you can see, large sections of the map are covered by Class B Airspace (which is depicted by the shaded blue area).
The archaic drone law makes it illegal to fly a drone in NYC. We discuss this and other New York drone laws below. You can also listen to our detailed discussion on the Ask Drone U Podcast.
The federal government enacted these new FAA drone laws, which apply to every state in the US.
To fly a drone as a hobbyist in the state of New York, qualifying TRUST – The Recreational UAS Safety Test is required by the FAA. You must also adhere to the FAA’s recreational model aircraft regulations. One of these laws states that if your drone weighs more than 0.55 lbs (250g), you must register with the FAA drone zone for $5.
To fly a drone as a commercial pilot in New York for work, you must comply with the FAA’s Part 107 Small UAS Rule (Part 107), which includes qualifying for the FAA’s Aeronautical Knowledge Test and obtaining a Remote Pilot Certificate.
In order to fly a drone as a government employee in New York, you must either follow the FAA’s Part 107 rule or get a federal Certificate of Authorization (COA).
Only with the advance written permission from the agency through a permit approving the exact time, location, and kind of use, the operation of UAS is authorized in state parks and historic sites. The decision to authorize or deny applications to use an Unmanned Aircraft System rests entirely with the OPRHP (Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation). Any UAS deployment or operations that have not been approved by OPRHP through the granting of a written approval is forbidden. This method, as well as other related agency policies, rules, and guidelines, shall be vigorously enforced by OPRHP.
The launching, landing, or operation of a UAS for recreational purposes from or on lands and waters administered by OPRHP is an activity that requires an operator to apply for a special UAS permit that includes conditions outlining the time, place, and manner of use, according to these regulations and this procedure.
The use of a UAS for commercial purposes is permitted under PRHPL Section 3.09(2) and 9 NYCRR Sections 372.7(b) and 409.1(c), where, in general, any commercial activity in OPRHP facilities requires permission (i.e., the selling or offering for sale, hire or lease of any merchandise, service, or other things of value).
You can read more about New York Parks here.
An old NYC drone law, Administrative Code § 10-126 prohibits the takeoff and landing of drones from within the city. Effectively this means that flying drones is illegal in New York City.
Check out this excerpt from Administrative Code § 10-126 –
“Takeoffs and landings. It shall be unlawful for any person navigating an aircraft to take off or land, except in an emergency, at any place within the limits of the city other than places of landing designated by the department of transportation or the port of New York authority”. This is also known as the NYC “Avigation” law.
New York City Council members, Paul Vallone, and Justin Brannan proposed an amendment to this administrative code in January 2018. This amendment aims to legally allow, but overly restrict drone flying in New York City. This is the summary of this proposed amendment –
“This bill would place restrictions on the times, locations, and altitudes at which unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), sometimes also known as drones, may be operated. The bill also would prohibit the use of UAVs for conducting surveillance and the operation of UAVs that are equipped with weapons or dangerous instruments. Additionally, the bill would make technical and conforming changes to Administrative Code § 10-126. This bill would not affect the operation of UAVs by City agencies”.
Fortunately, this bill has been stuck in the committee for the past 18 months. Which probably means it’s dead in the water. You can check out all the details on the New York City Council website.
Luckily, in July of 2019, developers and other people in the construction industry began the process of lobbying NYC to relax the rules, and allow them to use drones for not only marketing but also inspections. So keep an eye out for more information when more is available. NYC requires building owners to inspect the façade of each building every 5 years. To do this on many buildings, the owner must erect scaffolding, and it may take months, and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. A drone can be used to do the same thing in days (if not a single day), at less than 1% of the cost.
In an article dated Oct 21, 2019, council member Justin Brennan clarified his stance still further. He has proposed a NY-city-specific drone registration and remote ID system. Check out this excerpt:
“The legislation I’ve drafted would require any drone flown in the city to be registered with the Department of Transportation, covered by a liability insurance policy, and have an identification tag and number linking it to its owner — sort of like a VIN number on a car. It would authorize enforcement by DOT and NYPD against those in violation of these rules”.
While it is heartening to note that Brannan is finally acknowledging the many benefits of drone technology, red-tape measures like these will make flying extremely difficult. Hopefully, NYC leadership will eventually see that their drone “avigation” law is genuinely outdated and needs to exempt drones.
Drones are forbidden to fly in New York City, according to New York City—City Restriction rule, and anyone who witnesses a drone being flown should report 911.
Source: New York City Website
Although LAANC is now available for hobbyists to fly in controlled airspace, pretty much all of Manhattan and The Bronx is still closed to hobbyists because LAANC is not active at LaGuardia (LGA). While you can fly at Recreational Fixed Sites in controlled airspace, none are currently listed in either of those two Burroughs. However, much of Lower Manhattan is outside LGA airspace, but it would still fall under the “aviation” law.
For most of Brooklyn and some of Queens (basically from Atlantic Ave south), you can apply for LAANC for permission to fly in JFK-controlled airspace. But again, the Aviation law may also restrict you. There have been people who have flown on those areas without any issues, but just keep in the back of your mind you may get asked to land (or worse).
Between Brooklyn and Queens, there are also 3 AMA sites to fly at as well. You can find those sites here: FAA ArcGIS Map. Just make sure you check the “Recreational Flying Fixed Sites” layer. They also include a “More info” for information on how to contact the field.
Source: FAA ArcGIS
Another thing to consider is that both the Hudson River and the East River are what the FAA refers to as “Exclusion Zones”. Those zones require additional safety features like ADS-B and self-reporting location. Neither of those is required on drones, and we’re not even allowed to self-report via aviation radio channels.
As with many things FAA, you’ll get three different answers if you ask two different FAA employees. However, after reaching out to [email protected], it seems that drones are prohibited from flying in both of those exclusions zones. Basically because one of the requirements of 14 CFR 93.351 is to self-announce in order to fly in the Exclusion Zones, and since we can’t self-announce, we can’t fly there.
Here are the exclusion zones on the Hudson and East Rivers around.
Source: FAA ArcGIS
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