After Years of a Total Ban, It Will Soon Be Legal to Fly Drones in New York City

BY Zacc Dukowitz
14 June 2023

For as long as we can remember, drones have been banned in New York City.

But that’s about to change.

On July 7th at 1 Police Plaza in Manhattan, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) will hold a public hearing to explain the new rules and to discuss easing the restrictions currently in place.

UAV Coach is a proud partner of the NYPD, helping its officers become FAA-certified drone pilots through our training program over at Drone Pilot Ground School. It’s been so great to see the rules opening up in NYC!


NYPD Drone Permitting Rules for NYC

So, how’s it going to work?

Here’s what the NYPD’s proposal for drone operations in the city includes:

  • A permit system for commercial operations will allow operators to obtain a permit to fly after a 30-day application process. A $150 fee will come with each application submitted.
  • Fines of $250 to $1,000 for unauthorized flights or breaking rules during authorized flights.
  • A requirement to notify each community board for the community district or districts where the unmanned aircraft is anticipated to capture or transmit still images, audio, or video.

Here are some excerpts from the proposal showing the kinds of information the NYPD is proposing be collected from drone pilots seeking a permit to fly in New York City:

  • A description of the intended purpose or use of the unmanned aircraft;
  • The proposed date, time, and location of the take-off and landing of the unmanned aircraft;
  • Information regarding the specific geographic area where the flight of the unmanned aircraft will be conducted; o Information regarding the unmanned aircraft, such as manufacturer or model number;
  • Copies of the applicants’ data privacy and cybersecurity policies, or details regarding the applicant’s data privacy and cybersecurity practices; and
  • Any additional information that the Department determines is necessary to make a determination as to whether a permit should be issued.

Read the full proposal from the NYPD.

What Made NYC Officials Change Their Mind?

After so many years with a drone ban in place, why are city officials and the NYPD changing course?

Well, it’s an interesting story.

Two years ago, Brookyln-based aerial cinematography company Xizmo Media boldly sued NYC, arguing that the FAA’s authority over national airspace had preemption over state or local laws. The New York City drone ban predates drones by 50 years, originating from a 1948 avigation law that states:

It shall be 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 department of transportation or the port of New York authority.

Despite the wording—which is careful to limit its authority to “take off or land”—Xizmo Media claimed that New York City does not have the authority to issue a total ban.

Here’s where things get fun.

Just this week, Xizmo Media reached a settlement with the city, giving them exclusive rights to operate within the city limits until NYC puts out its general regulations. They are effectively the only media production company authorized to fly drones in New York City at this time.

When we spoke to CEO Edward Kostakis, an eight-year U.S. Marine Corps veteran, adjunct professor of Drone Cinematography at Adelphi University, and previously the Senior Pilot in North America for drone manufacturer DJI, here’s what he had to say:

Xizmo Media has always provided safe and effective drone operations for clients who want amazing aerial imagery, and we’re thrilled that our two-year legal quest has resulted in our unique agreement with New York City recognizing that we have the right to fly drones for our clients.

Pablo Barrera, Kostakis’s founding partner and an expert in motion picture camera operations, added:

Xizmo Media has earned our reputation for safe operation and astounding imagery over twelve years of hard work, and we’re pleased that our thousands of hours of experience over New York’s skies have helped show we’re worthy of this distinction.

Kudos to Xizmo Media and their efforts to open the rules up in NYC!

An aerial shot of the New York City skyline shot from a crewed aircraft

Drones to Improve NYC Building Inspections

New York City professionals and city officials have recognized the potential good that drones can do for the city in terms of improving building inspections.

Back in 2019, a prominent New York architect named Erica Tishman died when pieces of a building fell off and struck her.

The incident led to a call from city officials to allow drones to be used to inspect building facades so these important inspections could be done faster and more often, resulting in improved safety for everyone walking on the streets below.

The technology’s hand is being tied behind its back because of these laws.

– Justin Brannan, New York City Council member

Although these efforts didn’t materialize in easing restrictions at the time, they can be seen as a contributing factor in the current push to create a permitting process.

Drones Are Mainstream Now

The value of drone technology for a range of commercial applications has been tested and proven. Drones will be beneficial to New York City not just for inspections, but also for public safety agency work, cinematography work, and a variety of other use cases.


This fact is acknowledged in the wording of the NYPD’s proposal:

As drones have been increasingly used to film stunning cinematic videos, support first responder rescue efforts, aid in research projects, and conduct surveys, it is clear that the city must balance the ever present safety and privacy concerns inherent in widespread drone use against the important gains that may result from this new technology.

More to report following the NYPD’s public hearing on July 7th.

Stay tuned!

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