A law blog dedicated to tracking legal developments about drones in new york city, new york state, and beyond.*
*not legal advice, personal views only

Where can you fly your drone in New York City?

Hobbyist drone owners and operators in New York City are asking the same question these days: where can I legally fly my drone within the five boroughs?

The New York City Parks Department has designated five parks within the city where model aircraft (i.e., radio control airplanes and helicopters) can fly.  To date, the Parks Department has treated recreational drones like model aircraft and thus these five parks should be open to drone hobbyists (see more below).  For flying zones other than the above mentioned parks, we are waiting on more specific guidance and/or regulations that clarify where and when flying is approved.  Below I explain how it works.

Under the 2012 FAA Reauthorization Act, Congress directed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to issue rules for: (1) drone operation within 5 miles of all national airports (national airspace), and (2) commercially flown drones (think film makers and real estate developers to name a few).  Since then, the FAA has issued rules concerning the national airspace and is now developing rules for commercially flown drones.

Important here, the FAA does not regulate the operation of recreational drones outside of the national airspace.  In fact, Congress specifically left that task to state and local lawmaking bodies (see Section 336 of the FAA Reauthorization Act).   Thus, in New York, legislators in Albany and in New York City are charged with drafting rules for recreational drone owners.  In turn, the State Capital and City Hall will delegate some of the law making responsibility to government agencies such as the New York State Department of Transportation or the New York City Parks Department.

The issue at the moment is that neither the New York State Legislature nor the New York City Council have passed drone laws.  Thus New York City drone hobbyists are left without a clear set of rules about where they can fly.

Here is the good news.  As explained above, the New York City Parks Department has already designated five parks in Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island for flying model aircraft, otherwise known as remote control airplanes.  To date, the Parks Department has treated drones the same as model aircraft; the rules that apply to one also apply to the other.  Keep in mind that field specific rules may apply at each park and it is worth checking in advance before flying.  Also remember that if you fly a drone within 5 miles of an airport (i.e. JFK or LaGuardia) you need to call their air control tower first to inform them of your intention to fly.

Last, but not least, members of the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) have priority for flying remote control aircraft at the designated fields because they secure permits from the Parks Department to hold events.  Drone hobbyists are joining the AMA because it is a great organization with a long history of safe and responsible practices.  They also offer umbrella insurance in the amount of $2.5 Million in the event of an accident.  I will discuss the AMA more in other posts.

In the absence of New York City drone laws, drone hobbyists should, at a minimum, follow the FAA guidelines for flying recreational drones.  These guidelines follow basic common sense principles.

1.  Do not fly your drone near buildings, stadiums, bridges, pedestrians, and cars.  While the prospect of capturing images from above the busy city is exciting, you run the risk of being stopped by the New York City police, or even arrested like this guy for reckless endangerment.  Also keep in mind that certain airspace above a building is considered private property, thus flying a drone above a building could be considered a trespass.  Furthermore, flying a drone next to residential or commercial buildings with a camera could violate privacy laws.  Finally, do not forget that the New York City Police Department terrorism task force is on constant alert for anything that remotely signals terrorist activity.  Flying a drone carelessly or recklessly anywhere could trigger an unexpected response along those lines.

2.  Do not fly your drone higher than 400 feet.

3.  Keep your drone in direct visual sight at all times.

4.  If you fly your drone within 5 miles of an airport, call the air control tower to seek permission first.

5.  Stay well clear and do not interfere with any type of manned aircraft that is in flight.

I’d like to hear from you!  Feel free to e-mail me comments or feedback at info@newyorkdronelaw.com.  If I missed any places in New York City where drones are permitted to fly, please let me know so I can update.