Looking back, my weekends are a perfect case study of how impossible it can be to fly a drone in New York City – or really any metropolitan area.
I remember wasting one particular Sunday last month trying to find a place to fly a drone. It’s not like I just went willy-nilly and failed. No, this was a colossally disappointing day of drone flying – or lack thereof.
I spent over an hour a few days before the weekend searching for locations and carefully consulting the safe flying zones designated on Hivemapper and the Federal Aviation Authority’s (FAA) own B4UFLY app. From all my research, Fort Totten Park seemed like an ideal location since 1) there was an old canon battery there and 2) it sat perfectly between three no fly zones.
Despite the weather being perfect and my plans being relatively sound, upon attempting to launch the DJI Spark the connected smartphone app prevented me from launching the drone due to the area being an “illegal flying zone.”
But, that was preposterous, because I checked two different sources including the FAA’s own maps. In this case, either DJI had different maps or its GPS position was a little off. Ultimately, I had to take my little drone and go back on the three hour journey I just came from.
There’s a lot of disappointment that comes with flying drones that you have to be prepared for. With the DJI Spark alone, I had to cancel just about as many flights as I actually was able to perform due to winds being too strong, trying to launch from the wrong location, sudden sun showers, and other factors you can’t prepare for.
Ultimately, flying a drone in the city makes things even tougher. Airports and heliports are no fly zones within a five-mile radius for good reason, but when there are over a dozen sprinkled throughout the area, there’s basically nowhere to go.
Don’t think you’re completely safe with flying around the great outdoors, either. All United States national parks don’t allow drones, and you’ll want to be careful you don’t stray into nature reserves.
International travel can also make owning a drone tricky as some countries – including Dubai, Morocco and Sweden just to name a few – have begun to ban and restrict them. Not only can’t you fly drones in these countries, in certain cases airport security can even impound them until your return flight or confiscate them forever.
So, always be prepared before you fly, and prepare for disappointment when you can’t. The various restrictions make sense no doubt, but can make flying drones altogether a pain.