Is It Legal To Fly Drones In New York City?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Drone (David Rodriguez Martin/flickr)

More and more New Yorkers are flying drones in and around New York City. But the laws surrounding drone use aren't so clear. Gregory McNeal, Professor at Pepperdine University School of Law and contributor to Forbes, discusses domestic drone laws and the issues drones pose in New York City.

Four Drone Questions, Answered

Is it legal to fly my drones in New York City?

Gregory McNeal, a law professor at Pepperdine University School of Law and frequent contributor about drones for Forbes, says he’s dug through the New York City ordinances and hasn't found any specific language outlawing drones. But if the cops think you’re creating a public risk by flying your drone, you could be hit with a Reckless Endangerment charge, which can carry a penalty of up to seven years in prison. You may win your case if you challenge it in court, but you’d rack up lots of legal fees.

Where can I buy a drone, and how much does one cost?

You can buy a drone at everyday electronics stores like Amazon and B&H. Some models go for as little as $65.

Where's the best place to fly my drones?

Flying your drones on crowded city streets could be dangerous, and might bring you a Reckless Endangerment charge. But there are several specifically designated model aircraft fields in Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. Floyd Bennett Field is another possibility for drone pilots. There are also drone clubs, like New York City Drone User Group.

How can I prove that my drone doesn’t need to be used for evil purposes?

There are several potential ways of doing good with your drone. Texas Equusearch, which recently sued the FAA, uses their drones to search for missing children. McNeal came up with this example for New York City: "Let's say that you're worried about pollution in the Hudson River," said McNeal. "Normally what you'd have to do is try and go out and take a bunch of water samples from a few different places. So you'd need a bunch of city workers to go out and do that over a period of time. They have drones now that can fly out, land on the water, pick up the water sample, fly to the next place, pick up the water sample, and in two hours, you could do what would take people three or four days."


Gregory McNeal

Comments [8]

T crowley from nyc

If these "drones" were called model airplanes, suddenly they would take on a new meaning. When I was young, I loved putting together model airplanes and flying them. Nothing wrong with that then. Today's model airplanes are more advanced. They have built in GPS technology and they have safety features, like a fly back home feature which enables the plane to find its way back to the take off site. I have a fifteen point check list that I read before flight. The FAA sends me emails (TFR's) when I cannot fly my drone in the NYC area. Drones are used to survey property, farmers send them out to check hundreds of acres of crops, they are used for photography, real estate advertising, and the list goes on. Recently, the FAA granted film producers the right to use drones to shoot aerial shots. The cost savings here is obvious. Like anything else in the world some people will abuse the flying of model airplanes. And as usual the government will end up requiring a license to fly a model airplanes. Another government agency, ...just what we need. People who casually flying model airplanes over populated areas, stadiums, and near airports, lack common sense, and they should be fined. However, drones are becoming big business, already over 500,000 have been sold in the US this year. Our culture is driven by economics, and when something makes money than all bets are off. The activity becomes acceptable or tolerated.

Nov. 09 2014 10:23 AM
minipirate from brooklyn

What about for photography? flying would certainly open up a whole new world of possibility for cityscape imagery, and a lot cheaper/better than a helicopter tour. of course it would be nothing that invades anyone privacy or endangers anyone, but is that enough to not get arrested?

Oct. 30 2014 05:53 AM
Publius from NYC

The justifications made by the drone advocate don't justify general public use of drones. If drones are helpful for locating lost children or frugally collecting water samples from the Hudson, then it can be done by exempt first responder and law enforcement agencies or by licensed, insured contractors. It doesn't have to be available to the general public.

Jul. 16 2014 03:02 PM
Fran from New York

What exactly is the purpose of these things, besides people's egos, that other recording devices cannot handle without the possible dangers and intrusions they pose? Agree with gregb's observation; or when one or two are shot at or shot down because they're invading someone's space or privacy.

Jul. 16 2014 08:44 AM
Beau from manhattan

Will I need a license for the drone-hunting-season?
No one mentioned acts of terrorism with this device.
Who becomes responsible for mishaps, the u.s. doesn't take
responsibility for it's government mishaps. I am waiting for
drone on drone marriage.

Jul. 15 2014 11:40 AM

Drones will be banned after the first case of domestic terrorism using a drone. Which is almost guaranteed, as terrorist revel in using our own technology against us.

Jul. 15 2014 11:36 AM
Aankit from New York, NY

I just used a drone to record the baraat (groom's procession) at my big fat Indian wedding in New Brunswick, NJ. Haven't watched the video yet, but my guests loved seeing it!

Jul. 15 2014 11:35 AM

Only if they deliver cronuts

Jul. 15 2014 10:04 AM

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