In this blog post, we reveal the different drone laws in NYC. Whether you are a Part 107 or hobby pilot, going through this post will help you determine all you need to know for flying drones in NYC.
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 via 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 depicts 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).
Pro Tip – Do not forget to check for existing TFR’s of tfr.faa.gov before taking flight. Also, remember there is a permanent VIP TRF for the Trump Tower. It extends out in a 1-mile radius, with variable extensions depending on when President Trump is in town.
An archaic drone law makes it illegal to fly a drone in New York City. We discuss this and other New York drone laws below. These may change soon, as we discussed on the Ask Drone U Podcast August 1st, 2019.
Administrative Code § 10-126
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.
Source: New York City Website
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 had 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 from 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 and 1% of the cost.
In a recent 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.
Although LAANC is now available for hobbyists to fly in controlled airspace, pretty much all of Manhattan and The Bronx is still closed to hobbyist 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 “avigation” 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 Avigation 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 is also 3 AMA site 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.
Drone Map NYC
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-announced, we can’t fly there.
Here are the exclusion zones on the Hudson and East Rivers around.
Source: FAA ArcGIS
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