This 70 Year-Old Statute is Stifling Drone Use in New York City


Photo Credit: Wix Stock Images

Most drone enthusiasts understand that being a pilot comes with rules and regulations. Restrictions about where a person can fly help protect other pilots and bystanders, but what happens when drones are regulated by rules established well before their time? It may come as a surprise to you that one of the biggest cities in America has regulations against drones taking off and landing within city limits. It may surprise you even more to learn that this regulation is a statute that is 70 years old!

The statute in question is Provision 435-16.0, and it was enacted in 1948 as part of New York's local laws. As it turns out, the statute is not specifically about drones, but rather avigation, which is the navigation of an aircraft, or as the provision puts it "To steer, direct or manage an aircraft in or through the air."

To get a better understanding of how this statute works, I was put in contact with Jennifer Thibodeau, the DJI Public Policy Manager of North America. She informed me that the statute was instigated by the concerns that arose with the advent of aviation. Provision 435-16.0 was instated with the intention of discontinuing “wonton takeoff and landings” of manned aircraft. "The statute was written following the Second World War when aviation was still a relatively new development. There were concerns of persons dropping pamphlets from planes over Manhattan and/or landing planes anywhere they pleased in the boroughs.”

Without considering the changing landscape of portable technology, Provision 435-16.0 has not been augmented to take drones and their benefits into account. Businesses have found drones useful for a variety of applications. As a result, they have increased their efficiency, improved safety, created careers and diversified their services. Photographers, filmmakers, real estate agents, tour guides, etc. have all begun to rely on drones to stay ahead in their industries. When asked about the impact Provision 435-16.0 has had on drone pilots in New York City, Ms. Thibodeau stated, "This statute has completely stifled drone use and innovation in the city. As a result of this law, NYC is incredibly behind the technological curve." No one would expect one of the world's most recognizable cities to be behind any curve.

In relation to her work as DJI’s Public Policy Manager of North America, Ms. Thibodeau had this to say about Provision 435-16.0: "This statute presents an interesting case in my work, because it is by far the most outdated and out of touch piece of law that I interact with. Times have changed and by using drones lives are saved, first responders are safer, and business’ can do more work in less time. However, NYC is completely out of date."

It is unfortunate that an antiquated regulation has had such steep consequences for the people of New York City. Although it is understandable to be concerned about the safety risks posed by drones, it has been well-documented that drones have also facilitated safety and progress in many industries. Hopefully, the city will reconsider how their regulations regarding drones are affecting their citizens and institute a policy that is more effective at keeping citizens safe while also affording them the advantages of new technology.

I am a writer and an artist based in Georgia. Specializing in illustration, graphic design, and video art, I love to explore the new ways technology intersects with art. I think drones have done amazing things for photography and video art, making what would previously be costly and difficult more accessible. As a complete novice, it was only recently that I saw what independent artists could do with their drones, and I continue to be impressed by the sights that drones are able to explore and the images they can capture. Instagram: @tyesha.ferron

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