Why it’s (mostly) illegal to drone in NYC

Hey indie filmmakers, Griffin here.

New York is a beautiful city, but for a drone pilot, it is nearly impossible to

fly over. That's why I am just north in Westchester County, where I am

legally allowed to fly.

Today we'll look at the drone rules that make New York more restrictive than most American

cities. But there are some exceptions—five New York City parks where you can fly.

I guess I'm a "real" drone pilot. I have my FAA Part 107

certification, which allows me to earn money from my flights, and I can fly in some

locations that hobbyists can't.

But wherever I go, the question "Can I fly here?"

is always complicated.

It's really four questions.

Am I following FAA rules?

Can I take off and land from this property?

Am I cleared for this airspace?

And are there any local laws stopping me?

Sadly, in most of New York City I would fail all four.

The FAA says you can't fly drones over people

unless those people are operating the drones,

and New York City is the most densely populated place in the United States. So good

luck finding a flight path that doesn't travel over a person.

So you might think go to a park with some open space. Problem is the New York City

parks have their own regulations prohibiting aircraft.

You are not allowed to take off or land on NYC park property.

Okay, so what if we take off from somewhere else and just fly over a park?

Now we need to check our airspace maps to make sure it's cool with the FAA.

AirMap is a great tool for looking at airspace restrictions.

These big blue circles represent the controlled airspace above LaGuardia and JFK Airports.

A lot of New York City is covered by this Class B airspace.

Makes sense because this is what happens when a drone hits an airplane wing.

So theoretically I could fly outside this ring in parts of Manhattan or Brooklyn

without asking the FAA.

Inside the blue I need FAA authorization, which I can request

because I'm a certified pilot.

These numbers represent low altitude ceilings. If I apply to fly under

200 feet right here the FAA will grant me near-instant approval through a

system called LAANC.

One place I definitely can't fly is midtown Manhattan. This is a

TFR, a temporary flight restriction over Trump Tower. He's president,

so his New York residence is a no-fly zone with a radius of one nautical mile.

So what if I find a sparsely populated spot in Lower Manhattan, where I

don't need FAA authorization,

and a friendly property owner lets me fly above their building with no pedestrians underneath?

Can I fly there?

No. According to, "Drones are illegal

to fly in New York City."

And if you see one, "call 911."

Well, that sucks.

It's not a clearly defined law passed by any legislative body. Just a

sentence the city wrote on its website in 2016.

And it's hard to know what penalty I could face for a normal, safe flight because

the people getting arrested are the ones crashing into buildings—

[ABC7 News] A tourist is is trouble after crashing a drone

through a window of a building near Times Square.

[Griffin] —usually for misdemeanors like reckless endangerment and property damage.

As a side note, in addition to facing city justice, the FAA usually

fines reckless drone crashers $2,200.

Clearly drones can be dangerous in a city this densely populated, but this

city administrative code – "Drones are illegal" – sounds overly

broad, vague and ripe for a legal challenge.

Under the perfect circumstances, I might feel it's my federally granted right to fly in

New York City. Let's say a business in Brooklyn hires me to fly over

their empty parking lot.

Yes, I would worry that a neighbor could call 911. But if the flight is safe

and within uncontrolled airspace, I would feel like I'm operating

within my legal rights.

And maybe that city administrative code is infringing on my liberties.

But that is why I am up in Yonkers, just outside the New York City limits to avoid this hassle

Between the population, the park restrictions, the two major airports

and the blanket city ban on drones, it's just easier to do my flying outside the city.

That being said, there are five exceptions in New York City: five parks in Brooklyn,

Queens and Staten Island that have designated model aircraft fields.

The two in Brooklyn require a paid membership to fly. But if you have to fly in

NYC, these are the only spots the city says you can.

For now.

Thanks for watching. I have a few links in the

description, including the park website that shows where you can fly, and check out the

premiere of my new show on Indy Mogul, "Cheap Thing vs. Expensive Thing."

In the first episode, I'm testing a

$1500 Mavic Pro versus its

$50 knockoff.