What Are Drone Laws? Do The Authorities Know?

A few weeks ago I was prohibited from flying my quadcopter in a designed RC flying area. Normally I would just accept this as the plight of quad pilot, having been told by everyone and their mother where I am, and am not, allowed to fly. But this time there was a guy with an RC plane who was allowed to fly in the same area.

The park ranger told me I couldn’t fly a quadcopter anywhere in the park, no exceptions. I asked why the RC airplane pilot was allowed to fly, but I was not, and was told that despite neither of us being able to produce a permit, the RC plane guy was a member of a local RC flying club that certified him to fly at any designated RC airfield.

The park ranger then pulled out a piece of paper with a list of contact info for local FBI offices and the NYPD, along with a long list of very detailed information which was supposed to be collected from me and relayed to the listed local agencies. I asked for a copy of the paper, in order to get a better idea of what the rules are, and was told that it was “classified information”. Having a camera slung around my neck, I asked if I could photograph the sheet; at which point the ranger bristled and told me I was lucky I wasn’t getting a ticket. For what?

The ranger proceeded to stomp around for a few more minutes before instructing me to call the park office to get more information. So that’s exactly what I did:

I think I am more confused after this phone call than I was before. Here’s a rundown of information not gotten from this call:

-what the difference between an RC helicopter and RC quadcopter is

-where to obtain a permit to fly in the park

-what the permit actually permits

So I emailed the ranger a long list of questions and got the following response a few days later:

The section of Law that pertains to the use of Quadcopters , RC Vehicles or Unmanned Aircraft on the lands of PIPC are PIPC Park Rules and Regulations. The Part 409, Commercially 409.1(c) Recreation 409.1(j).


9 NYCRR 370‐378

FAA Advisory Circular 91‐57

Section 336 of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2012.

The use of RC Vehicles or Unmanned Aircraft are Prohibited except undertaken pursuant to a permit on State Park Lands And PIPC Lands.

I am still researching which Park office does issue the permits.

The activity is regulated on State Park Lands and PIPC lands so any employee of the State Parks or commission can ask for your permit and then take appropriate action. Ask you to stop the activity or refer to the Park Police/Rangers.

This is just what I found quickly I will forward to operations also.

And a few days later, finally some idea of where to get the permit. Maybe.

The Regional Office At The Administration Building Bear Mountain you may apply for a permit. This is separate from the Bear Mountain State Park office but in same building.

A little bit of research into the legal documents referenced by the ranger in the first email show that there is no specific language differentiating types of RC aircraft. How then can quadcopters be outright banned? I understand the permit part, but if I were able to get a permit, then I should technically be allowed to fly in the designated areas.

I understand the “drone” stigma is real, and that people are worried about their privacy and the safety of people on the ground. These are real concerns when anyone can go out and spend $500 on a quadcopter that can fly to great heights and great distances right out of the box, but how are quadcopters so different from the RC planes and helis that have been around for decades? Is it the addition of cameras, and First Person View (FPV) systems? Some would say so.

In the words of Jelani Cobb from his recent piece on drones in the New York Times Magazine:

The problem is not technology. It is, as it always was, us.

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