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Flying a Drone in New York City (Read This First)

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New York City alone has a population of 19,095,300 as of 2021, according to World Population Review. The city’s robust populace can make NYC feel a little crowded. You want to fly a drone there, but you’re worried about crashing it into passersby or architecture. What are the rules about using a drone in New York City?

According to the FAA, you must have a Part 107 license to fly a drone commercially or pass the TRUST test to fly recreationally in New York. The state prohibits drone pilots from flying in historical sites and state parks in New York without written approval. Locally, you cannot fly a drone in NYC.

Before you head out to fly your drone in the great state of New York, make sure you read this article. In it, we’ll break down New York’s drone flight laws federally, state-wide, and locally. Whether you live in New York or travel here often, you won’t want to miss it! 

Federal drone laws (that apply in New York as well) #

The federal government’s drone flight laws apply not only to those who live, work, and play in New York but across the United States as well. 

For Commercial Pilots  #

According to federal law, you must have a Part 107 (link) drone license to fly a drone as a commercial pilot in New York, or in any other state in the US. The Part 107 license is issued by the Federal Aviation Administration or FAA. 

We’re going to have a post soon about online prep courses to pass your FAA exam, so stay tuned for that.

You must be 16 years old or older to obtain your FAA license. Your comprehension of reading, speaking, and writing the English language must also be strong. Your physical and mental health should be sound as well. 

To take the FAA drone knowledge test, you need to sign up on the FAA Integrated Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application System or IACRA (link), which is free to do. You’ll get an FAA Tracking Number or FTN. 

Once you’re registered, you can find a testing center in New York or in your local area to take the exam. On test day, you’ll be issued the Unmanned Aircraft General – Small (UAG) exam. You’ll be quizzed on such topics as flying your drone by night, preflight inspection, flight judgment, radio communications, emergency procedures, weather effects on drones, and airspace classifications.

Should you pass the exam, you next return to the IACRA website and fill out FAA Form 8710-13 to obtain your remote pilot certificate. You will need your Knowledge Test Exam ID, which is 17 digits, to apply for your certificate.  

The certificate or license is good for two years. Before your drone license expires, you must follow the above steps again. That does require you to successfully pass the Unmanned Aircraft General – Small (UAG) exam again. The process is about to change, however, to not need to retake the exam, but to update your license through online courses or training. 

For government drone use, in addition to your Part 107 license, you will also need your Certificates of Authorization or COA (link). This Air Traffic Organization authorization requires you to submit an application. Then the FAA will do a technical and operational review and determine your drone flight rules. 

For Recreational Use #

If you only plan on flying a drone in New York (and any other state in the US) for enjoyment and not for profit, you still have to take a test first. 

Note: The TRUST test requirement is a new procedure that came into play in June 2021.

This one is known as the Recreational UAS Safety Test or TRUST (link). The only exception is for drone pilots with a drone that weighs less than .55 pounds. 

There are a variety of local or online venues where you are able to take the test. Here is a full list of FAA Approved Test Administrators:

  • Volatus Aerospace Corp
  • University of Arizona Global Campus
  • UAV Coach
  • The Boy Scouts of America
  • The Academy of Model Aeronautics or AMA
  • Tactical Aviation
  • Proctorio Incorporated
  • Pilot Institute
  • New College Institute or NCI
  • Lake Area Technical College
  • HSU Educational Foundation
  • Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University or ERAU
  • Drone U
  • Drone Trust
  • Drone Launch Academy LLC
  • CrossFlight Sky Solutions
  • Community College of Allegheny County – West Hills Center
  • Chippewa Valley Technical College 

The TRUST test has two sections, including multiple-choice questions in the second section. According to the FAA: “You cannot fail the test. If you answer a question incorrectly you will be provided with information on why the answer you chose was incorrect and prompted to try again.”

When you finish the TRUST test, you get a completion certificate. Unlike the Part 107 license, a TRUST certificate does not expire. The FAA cautions you against losing your certificate, as that will require you to take another test. 

You must have your certificate on hand with you whenever you fly, and be able to show it to any law enforcement officer or FAA agent upon request. 

New York State drone laws #

Adhering to federal drone laws isn’t enough. You must also be cognizant of New York State drone laws if you’re planning to fly a drone in New York. Well, we should say law, singular, as there’s only one. It’s an important rule though, so be sure to read up. 

In effect since January 2015, the OPR-PCD-018–New York Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (link) requires that if you want to take photographs or film in state parks or historical sites in New York State, you must have a permit. This includes any filming or photographing with a drone.

New York State Parks Recreation & Historic Preservation or OPRHP dictates the rules about whether your drone is usable for filming or photography. According to this OPRHP file, here are the factors that the organization will use to make its decision:

  • Whether the drone violates privacy rights, such as capturing someone’s likeness, as then you’d need a release 
  • If you’d annoy or scare the general public with the noise of the drone or “creating a hazardous or physically dangerous condition for members of the public”
  • Whether you’d disturb the local wildlife with your drone
  • If the drone flight would “result in significant conflict with other existing uses”
  • Whether OPRHP contractors, concessioners, and administration would be able to carry out their duties, including offering visitor services
  • If your drone would ruin park resources
  • Whether your drone would fly in restricted airspace 

So before planning to fly your drone in any state park or historic site in New York State, make sure to get permission from OPRHP first.

New York City Local Drone Laws #

That brings us to the drone laws for New York City, which are regulated by the New York State Assembly and the FAA. 

For commercial drone pilots, the administrative code requires that you land or take off only in certain locations as approved by the Port of New York Authority and the state’s Department of Transportation. 

This essentially means that you cannot fly a drone in New York City, including both commercial and recreational drone use. Even if you have your FAA Part 107 license and/or your TRUST certificate, the rules are the rules. 

If someone sees a drone flying around the city, they’re supposed to call 911.

This makes sense when you think about it. New York City, as we’ve established, has a population of millions. They’re spread across 302.6 square miles. One square mile is the equivalent of 640 acres, so the entirety of New York City is 193,664 acres.

It seems big on its own, but with buildings practically stacked on top of buildings, NYC can feel very constricted. To preserve those buildings and to prevent people from having to watch over their heads all the time, we can reasonably understand why drones are prohibited in New York City. 

6 Places to safely fly a drone near NYC #

Just because you can’t get into the city doesn’t mean you can’t fly around NYC. Here are 6 places that are close enough to the city limits that you can take in the sights but aren’t so close that you’re doing something illegal.

1. Tanner Park #

In Copiague is Tanner Park, a beachfront park near the Great South Bay in Long Island. The whole beach likely isn’t available for you to fly your drone, as the Town of Babylon requires a license to access some areas of the beach.

You should have more than enough space though to capture some amazing seaside photography or videography using your drone. 

2. LaTourette Park Model Airfield #

Staten Island’s own LaTourette Park, specifically the Model Airfield, is another fantastic area to fly your drone. You’re not quite in New York City, but you certainly are close enough. The green, marshy environment here is picturesque, and you’ll be surrounded by trees and plenty of open sky. 

Do stay away from all the sports courts, as the park is home to basketball courts, handball courts, football fields, and baseball fields. Flying sports balls could damage your drone, and you need to be sure not to fly over any people. 

3. New Rochelle #

Not far upriver from New York City is the city of New Rochelle, a picturesque and historic location that offers both waterfronts, and cityscape locations from which to film or photograph. New Rochelle is home to two well-known parks, Hudson Park and Davenport, both of which offer great scenery and plenty of space to fly your drone away from the crowds. 

Hop on the train and head up to New Rochelle if you’re looking for a new place to get airborne not far from the great city of New York. 

4. Senator Speno National Park #

The state park known as Senator Speno Natural Park in East Meadow is a bit more of a park than some of the other sites we’ve discussed, as it also includes play equipment for the kids. The large lake within the park’s grounds makes it worth visiting, as does the greenery and the peaceful escape from city life. 

5. Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Flying Field  #

The Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Flying Field, now renamed the Model Airplane Field, is in lovely Forest Hills. You’ll be sure to find plenty of other aviation enthusiasts at this park, including those who love UAVs of all kinds, not only drones. You might just make a new friend or two! 

6. Staten Island Boat Graveyard #

As the name implies, the Staten Island Boat Graveyard is home to abandoned boats that look creepy-cool. If you’re trying to film a very specific type of footage, this is one destination around NYC that you cannot afford to miss. 

Conclusion #

Before flying your drone in New York, be sure you know all of these drone flight rules from the federal, state, and local levels. Federally, commercial drone pilots must have their FAA Part 107 license. Recreational drone users must take a TRUST test. 

Statewide, you cannot fly your drone within state parks or historical sites without written permission. Locally, in New York City, you’re prohibited from flying a drone at all. Fortunately, you have plenty of great options around the city limits that do welcome UAVs! 


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