fly drones in NYC

How can I fly drones in NYC? New permitting process makes it easier than it was (but it’s still complicated)

Up until now, the ability to fly drones in NYC was relatively complicated. That’s perhaps unsurprising, given the airspace is crowded — and the ground below it is even more so. In a city of nearly 9 million people, flying drones over others is almost inevitable. Plus, there’s just all sorts of interference with skyscapers.

But now, New York City is no longer off limits (or at least as difficult to fly in) for drones. NYC Mayor Eric Adams announced this summer that the city has created a new permitting process that will allow businesses and organizations to fly drones within city limits. Of course, the announcement was also augmented with a fairly charming publicity stunt — where Mayor Adams himself piloted a drone.

Photo courtesy of the City of New York.

But while the stunt was delightful, flying drones is not as easy as it was for Mayor Adams. There’s still tons of paperwork needed (and a fee to pay) if you want to fly drones in NYC.

How the new rules to fly drones in NYC will work

Under the new rules, applicants will need to apply for a permit online from the New York Police Department, where they’ll provide information about their drone operations, including the type of drone they will be using, the area where they’ll be flying, and the purpose of their flight.

To apply, you’ll need a few things, including:

  • An online account with the NYC government website (which is free to make)
  • Government-issued photo ID for applicant and any proposed operator
  • FAA pilot certification with small unmanned aircraft system rating
  • FAA UAS registration certificate
  • Applicable FAA Waivers & other authorizations
  • Proof of Commercial General Liability and drone insurance policies
  • Details regarding the applicant’s data privacy and cybersecurity practices policy

You’ll also have to pay an $150 application fee.

Upon application approval, they’ll receive a permit to legally take-off or land a drone or any other kind of unmanned aircraft in New York City. The permits will include a site temporarily designated as a take-off or landing site by the DOT.

Of course, pilots will also have to comply with all applicable federal, state, and local regulations, and to have obtained authorization to operate their devices from the Federal Aviation Administration.

There are a few other important rules:

  • Any permittee of an unmanned aircraft must notify the NYPD of any crash or accident that takes place during takeoff, operation, or landing.
  • Applicants must notify the New York City Cyber Command of any cybersecurity incidents involving devices.
  • Applicants may also need to obtain additional permits through of New York City agencies (e.g. Department of Parks and Recreation, Office of Media and Entertainment).
  • If a permittee intends to capture video, photo, or audio, they will be required to notify the relevant community boards, and public notices within 100 feet of the take-off and landing sites in advance.

The new NYC drone flying rules are still far more complicated than in most other places

Note that some of those rules specific to flying drones in NYC are still though far more restrictive than what it’s like flying drones elsewhere. And whether that’s a bad or good thing? I’ll leave that decision to you. Among the standouts of how these new rules still come with restriction include:

There are still restrictions on photographing in public spaces

For example, when it comes to taking photographs in public spaces in the U.S., permission is not required by law. But these NYC drone rules do in a sense, restrict how you can take photographs in public spaces if the tool is a drone. Politicians have said that they want to emphasize privacy.

“Nobody wants to have a drone hovering over their yards or near their windows, recording them without permission,” said New York City Councilmember Joann Ariola. “These new regulations will make sure that the privacy of New Yorkers can continue to be respected as we enter into a new era, and will also make sure that our city services are able to utilize the most cutting edge drone technology available.

Only licensed pilots can fly in NYC

Drone Pilot Ground School Part 107 test prep

These rules don’t apply to recreational drone pilots. Note that NYPD requires that operators hold an FAA pilot certification with small unmanned aircraft system rating. You can get a drone pilot license by passing an in-person written exam, which many people refer to as the “Part 107 test.” Most people learn how to pass that test by enrolling in a Part 107 online test prep course.

Insurance is required

Another standout with the new NYC drone permitting process is that applicants must provide proof of Commercial General Liability and drone insurance policies. The Federal Aviation Administration does not require drone insurance to fly (though aviation authorities in some other countries do). For the city of NYC to require it is a big deviation from federal rules.

It won’t be fast

With bureaucracy also comes slowness. The NYPD says that online applications must be submitted up to 30 days in advance of the earliest proposed take-off or landing. So you can’t just last-minute decide to fly drone.

There are “limited circumstances where the process may be expedited to 14 days” which could be helpful, but is still not great for procrastinators.

There is one big exception where it’s still relatively easy to fly drones — and that’s drone flights in Model Aircraft Fields. Take-offs and landings within designated Model Aircraft Fields do not require permitting under these rules.

fly drones in NYC aerial Central Park

Why the new rules around how to fly drones in NYC are a big deal

The new rules are — in some ways — considered major step forward for the drone industry in New York City, as they are more transparent and streamlined than the previous regulations (which were often confusing and difficult to navigate). Prior to July 21, 2023, section 10-126(c) of the New York City Administrative Code prohibited most take-off and landings of drones within New York City.

The Department’s new rule, 38 RCNY 24, creates a procedure by which the public may submit applications to fly drones within NYC, creating a more predictable environment that creates a straightforward path to compliance. That could then open up new possibilities for businesses and organizations that use drones.

Drones certainly have flown in New York for critical use cases, but flights have mostly been limited to emergency services by the NYPD and the Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY), often in circumstances where agency personnel could not otherwise be safely deployed. For example, drones were attributed with saving lives in a tragic garage collapse in Lower Manhattan in April 2023 that saw five concrete floors pancake down atop one another in the middle of the afternoon. (That’s because drones were able to assess the interior conditions and conduct searches for survivors without putting firefighters’ lives at risk.)

“With these rules, we are paving the way for drones to help in New Yorkers’ everyday lives – not just in emergency situations,” Mayor Adams said. “Drones are going to allow us to make façade inspections faster and safer, help us inspect and maintain our bridges, tunnels, and critical infrastructure, and allow us to monitor our beaches more easily for unauthorized swimmers and hazardous conditions, among other things. This is how we ‘Get Stuff Done’ for New Yorkers.”

And it sounds like New York’s big political players are mostly supportive of drones — and heavily so.

“Drones are the future, and this administration continues to embrace technology to serve New Yorkers in new, more efficient and more cost-effective ways,” said Chief Counsel to City Hall and the Mayor Brendan McGuire.

And many departments within the local New York City government have already hinted at plans to use drones in the future, including NYC Parks and the New York City Department of Buildings.

“Drones have the potential to help us both keep New Yorkers safe with a birds-eye-view of our beaches to monitor for sharks, and plan for the future of greenspaces with an expanded aerial view during our design and construction process,” said New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (NYC Parks) Commissioner Sue Donoghue.

New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) Commissioner Jimmy Oddo also said that the department had plans to use drones for critical surveying work on construction and building maintenance projects. In fact, a group of DOB inspectors who were members of Allied Building Inspectors IUOE Local 211, have already traveled to Texas for a comprehensive drone training earlier this summer, giving the department a team of qualified and soon-to-be licensed drone pilots.

But they also bring numerous restrictions with them, along with a fairly robust application process. That $150 application fee might not be welcome either. In short, it’s still not easy to fly drones in NYC.

What do you think of the new rules around how you can fly drones in NYC? Do you think they’re still too restrictive — such as those privacy rules? Or do they said a solid, straightforward standard in how drones can be used? Leave a comment!

One Comment

  • joseph hijuelos Hijuelos says:

    Commercial Drone operators should ban together. Nyc rules conflict with federal. I have a faa drone lic can’t fly nyc without permit Liberal control… I hate nyc

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