Drone photo of Columbia University in New York City

I was excited when the City of New York finally opened up drone flights in all 5 boroughs including Manhattan. So, I wanted to share my experience and impressions, in the hope that it may help you, should you need/want to fly a drone in NYC. Keep in mind that this is a new and changing process, so some things I say about my experience may change by the time you read this.

Expectations. Inform your client that you can not set a shoot date for at least 30 days from the time that you are ready to apply for your first permit. This saved me big time. It literally took 30 days to get my first permit. I was assured that, as it says on the website, that the next one will take 14 days. So allow plenty of time!

Flight Authorization. It’s important first to go an app such as https://www.aloft.ai to check the Air Space where you want to fly and see if an Authorization is required. If it is, get the Authorization and have it ready to submit to the NYC Drone Portal.

INSURANCE. Make sure you have the proper in Insurance. City of New York requires 2 million per incident 4 million aggregate. If you don’t have that, forget it, you won’t get a permit. It was challenging for me because my awesome drone insurance carrier, http://www.transportrisk.com doesn’t have a 4 million aggregate, they have UNLIMITED claims. Which is better coverage, but it took some convincing to get NYC to understand that the coverage was more than what they asked for.

Preproduction. A good deal of my assignments do not require a site walk through, but your going to need this weeks before you plan to fly in order to submit a detailed flight plan on your drone application. City of New York is primarily concerned with safety, so they want a map of where you plan to launch and fly. It’s important to have a preproduction walk through with your client to map out specifically where you’ll be flying. NYC does not want you flying over people or moving vehicles. This makes i very difficult in such a dense city. Make your flight plan accordingly, unless you plan to block streets, then we’re talking a much bigger production. Lastly, make sure that your flight plan matches the area on your FAA Authorization. Mine didn’t initially, because 35 days out, I didn’t yet have details of what my client wanted, had I known how specific a flight plan was required, I would’ve done my prepro sooner. Pro Tip. If you can, fly early in the morning on the weekend. The city is much quieter with a lot less traffic.

Visual Observer. Secure a Visual Observer and get a scan of their Driver’s License. New York City Requires that you have a Visual Observer and they will ask for proof of who you are hiring. Even though the FAA does not require a VO, NYC does so be prepared.

NYC Drone Portal. Now you’re ready to go to the portal. https://dronepermits.nypdonline.org/ Set up an account an begin your application. The website is a bit quirky and you can’t get anyone to talk to or ask questions, but I’ve been assured that they are aware of it and are making changes. Go through the portal and provide all the info that they request. They will email you and ask for missing items, but the better you are prepared, the less frustrating the process will be.

PATIENCE! Be Patient! This is one of the most difficult parts. It is a new process for NYC. They are overwhelmed, but I finally spoke to 2 terrific police officers who are aware of the issues. They really want to make this happen, so be kind, patient and understanding. It will get you along way.

Bottom line. Manage your clients expectations of what type of drone flights are practical in NYC and where.  I’ve flown in a lot of complicated places in the US, such as Beverly Hills and Bel Air, California. Most of those complications are either due to fire safety or being too close to celebrities that have privacy concerns. NYC has a different set of concerns, mostly due to the density of it’s population and buildings. Expect the initial process to take a lot of time. Understand that NYC really wants drone flights, but this is a new game for them and they are still learning, so be patient and help them as much as you can, knowing that SAFETY is their number one priority.

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