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NYC drone permit system won’t fly, say critics who deride NYPD proposed $150 fee, strict rules

A DJ1 drone flies over the East River from Pier 1 in Brooklyn on Nov. 11, 2022. (Theodore Parisienne/New York Daily News/TNS)

The New York Police Department is test flying a permitting system that will allow drones to buzz about New York City — but commercial drone operators believe the strict rules will effectively put them in a no-fly zone.

After years of banning drones from flying in the five boroughs — except for five public parks in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island — the NYPD on June 2 proposed a new procedure where hobbyists and commercial drone fliers could get a permit to fly drones and take aerial photos and video of the city.

But operators of the remote-controlled fliers will have to jump through hoops to get the $150 permits.

Applicants would have to request a permit a month before the flights, must be insured, and must already have a certificate of authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration.

In addition, drone operators will need to indicate in the application exactly what they hope to record, according to the new rules. They also must alert neighborhood community boards and City Council members where they plan to fly the drones and post public notices in the areas they intend to record.

The NYPD can deny any permit request it believes would “cause an unreasonable danger to the health or safety of the applicant, operator, or others, including members of the public.”

Drone operators may appeal permit denials — but the $150 application fee will be non-refundable, the Police Department said.

Those caught operating a drone without a permit would face fines ranging from $250 for a first offense to $1,000 for subsequent offenses, the department said.

Commercial drone companies are already balking at the strict rules — and how easily the NYPD can deny the permits.

“Clearly they don’t want drones in New York City,” said Edward Kostakis, co-founder of drone assisted aerial photography company Xizmo Media.

“What they’re trying to do is trying to make it difficult for everyone and anyone who’s going to try to apply for a permit to be able to fly. That way they dissuade them from wanting to do it at all.”

Kostakis said the upcoming hearing will be “quite an aggressive situation, because any commercial drone operator who knows what they’re doing is going to show up and tell them that this is absolutely unworkable.”

“This is not a solution. This is not even a first step,” Kostakis said of the NYPD proposal.

Drone operator Eddie Nunez also shot down the city’s plans, saying on Twitter that the permit system “only protect the large media companies, and limit individuals the right to document and create content.”

Police say the proposed permitting system accounts for “the important gains that may result from this new technology” as well as the city’s unusual airspace.

“New York City is a unique location that is serviced by three different airports, contains miles of towering skyscrapers, and hosts the densest population in the United States,” the NYPD said in a statement. “The city must balance the safety and privacy concerns of its citizens with the increased interest in the use of drones.”

When drones first flew onto the scene, the NYPD immediately banned them from the city, citing its dense population, skyscrapers and long list of potential terror targets.

Cops enforced the ban with a law placed into the city charter in the 1940s making it “unlawful for any person avigating an aircraft to take off or land, except in an emergency, at any place within the limits of the city other than places of landing designated by (the city.)”

“Avigating” is the word used in New York City law to describe navigating or flying an aircraft.

The 1940s law “was passed when military members were coming back after World War II,” Kostakis said. “(The veterans) would take off in their planes from Long Island or from New Jersey and they’d land in undeveloped parts of Queens and Brooklyn or Manhattan, go into a bar, go see their friends, then take off and go fly wherever they wanted to go.”

The only designated “places of landing” in the city today are, generally, heliports and airports. The law didn’t anticipate the development of small, unmanned, remote-control drones, Kostakis said.

“When you fast forward 80 years later, and you try to interpret that law to make drones fit into that law, there’s a problem,” Kostakis said.

None of the five city parks where drone flying is allowed are in Manhattan or remotely close to famous city sights. The parks include LaTourette Park Model Airfield in Staten Island, Calvert Vaux Park and Marine Park in Brooklyn, and Flushing Meadows Park and Corona Park in Queens,.

Even without New York City’s drone ban, it is tricky to legally launch drones in the five boroughs, thanks to LaGuardia and Kennedy airports.

Drone operators need air traffic control clearance within 5 miles of the airports, which means high-flying drones are effectively banned in a good chunk of northern Queens and Manhattan, as well as southern Queens and southern Brooklyn.

The NYPD and the FDNY can fly drones at major events and to conduct rescue operations. Drones were used to search for survivors in the April 18 collapse of a lower Manhattan parking garage that killed one and injured five others.

Those caught flying — and sometimes crashing — drones in New York City have been found in violation of the city’s avigation law and are usually summonsed or charged with reckless endangerment.

The NYPD’s new permit system came about because Xizmo Media took the city to court, challenging the constitutionality of the law. With the exception of New York City and Washington D.C., every other city in the nation allows commercial drone use for photography purposes, surveys, and property inspections, Kostakis said.

“There are plenty of other cities in the United States that are sensitive and have monuments, such as LA, Miami, Chicago, Boston. All these places allow for drones. Why is New York City so different?” Kostakis asked.

“This city has prevented businesses, people, schools, teachers, students, entrepreneurs from being able to engage in a business that by 2025 is supposed to be about a $65 billion industry. Up until now, New York City has taken absolutely zero part of that.”

Kostakis expects public pushback against the proposed permitting system — but he added that the new rules are “better than no proposal at all.”

“We are in the process of making a nice perfect tire and what we’ve got right now is a square made out of stone,” he said. “But at least we’ve gotten something.”

The hearing on the permit proposal will be at NYPD headquarters in lower Manhattan on July 7, officials said. The public can also review and comment on the proposal online.


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