The streets of New York City are always buzzing. Soon, its skies may be too—but it won’t be the buzz of humans.
The New York City skyline could soon be dotted with small, humming drones after Mayor Eric Adams announced a rule that allows individuals and entities to apply for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) privileges.
The rule, an addition to Title 38 of the Rules of the City of New York, establishes a permitting process and guidelines for takeoff and landing of UAS within the five boroughs.
Before Friday, drones were only allowed to fly within New York City Department of Transportation (DOT)-designated locations or model aircraft fields recognized by the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation (with an exception for law enforcement). Now, the public can request additional locations to be temporarily designated as drone flight zones.
“With these rules, we are paving the way for drones to help in New Yorkers’ everyday lives—not just in emergency situations,” Adams said in a press conference. “Drones are going to allow us to make facade 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.”
Permits will be administered by the New York City Police Department, and each will include a location temporarily designated by the DOT as a takeoff or landing site. The rule opens the skies to both businesses and hobbyists, though the latter will need to hold a Part 107 remote pilot certificate.
Without further adieu, let’s dig into how to obtain a permit—and what can be done with it.
How to Get a Drone Permit in New York City
To start, create an account on the city’s newly launched drone permit portal. Applicants will be prompted to enter the name, address, email, and phone number for themselves and any proposed operators, alternate operators, and visual observers. The operator is the person actually flying the drone, while visual observers can extend the range of flight by keeping an eye on the aircraft.
Applicants will also need to provide a description of their intended activities, which could include inspections, project planning, or obtaining photo, video, or audio. Prospective pilots can request as many as five combinations of flight times, dates, and takeoff and landing locations but must also specify the altitude, duration, and geographical location of the flights themselves.
In addition, the application will require at least:
- The photo ID of the applicant and any proposed operators or visual observers.
- A remote pilot certificate from the FAA with a small UAS rating, including any waivers (such as operations over people) applicable to the requested permit.
- An FAA UAS registration certificate for the drone itself.
- Proof of commercial general liability insurance and drone aviation liability/UAS coverage.
- Details of the applicant’s data privacy and cybersecurity practices.
- The manufacturer, model number, weight, and year of manufacture of the UAS.
Importantly, applications must be submitted within 30 days and at least 180 days prior to the earliest proposed launch date.
But there’s an exception: If each proposed operator and alternate operator has been listed on at least one permit in the previous 180 days and that permit was not revoked for failure to comply, the NYPD can approve submissions within 14 days. The department will also review all applications before August 1, 2024, to determine if the shorter 14-day timeline is operationally feasible.
In addition to paying for insurance out of pocket, applicants will be charged a $150 fee. Unfortunately, that’s nonrefundable, except in cases where an application was approved then revoked for reasons not the fault of the applicant or operator.
That means applicants could be paying just to have their requests denied, which could happen for a number of reasons. The NYPD may turn away applicants due to false or incomplete paperwork, concern for public safety or security, or a violation of state, federal, or city aviation laws. However, disapprovals can be appealed within 30 days of notification.
Whether approved or rejected, application status can be tracked via email. But if approved, you’re ready to fly within the specified window. Just keep an eye on that application status, as it can be temporarily or permanently revoked after being issued.
What Can (and Can’t) You Do with Your Permit?
According to Adams and other city officials, newly inducted drones will be used for everything from infrastructure inspections to personal photography. But there are a few key restrictions.
As would be expected, permittees are required to comply with all applicable federal, state, and local regulations when flying. That means flights will need to remain within the operator’s visual line of sight, among other restrictions. When operating, pilots will need to have their permit, documentation of FAA authorization (including waivers), and a copy of the aforementioned insurance policies.
Permitted fliers must notify the NYPD of any crash that takes place during takeoff, operation, or landing. They are also required to contact the city’s Cyber Command of any suspected cybersecurity breaches.
If operating a drone without a permit or exception, or in violation of a permit, rulebreakers face $250 in civil penalties for the first offense. If two offenses take place within a year, the penalty doubles, and it rises to $1,000 if a third violation occurs. Violators may also be charged with a misdemeanor.
And there’s one more key rule. If a permit holder plans to capture photo, video, or audio, they must notify the community board in each district they wish to fly and post public notices within 100 feet of each takeoff and landing site. Failure to do so 48 hours in advance of the earliest launch could draw a fine.
So, those are the rules. But what will drones in the Big Apple actually look like?
The NYPD, New York City Fire Department, and other state agencies already use drones in cases where personnel cannot be deployed—like tracking shark attacks along the coastline, a recent initiative from Governor Kathy Hochul. Another example came in April, when drones were used to assess interior conditions and search for survivors after a garage collapsed in Lower Manhattan.
“From patrolling the city’s 2,000-square-mile upstate watershed to conducting routine infrastructure inspections along the coastline of the five boroughs, drones operated by our skilled workforce are already helping us serve New Yorkers more safely and efficiently,” said Rohit Aggarwala, New York City Department of Environmental Protection commissioner.
Individuals and organizations with drone permits will probably take on similar tasks. Remote inspections are likely candidates for UAS, allowing energy and utility companies to make safer, quicker checks. They may also be used to plan out capital projects, giving developers a bird’s-eye view of the city’s layout.
Hobbyists, on the other hand, may not benefit much. The $150 fee and out-of-pocket insurance payments present a barrier to entry, which is only compounded by the requirement of FAA certification and registration. Chances are this rule was geared toward companies with more money and time.
Still, the city’s drone permitting process is undoubtedly an improvement. Integrating UAS into the biggest city in the U.S. was never going to be easy, but New York’s rule is a small step toward democratizing the skies.