A New York City council member is introducing legislation that would ban drones in the city, according to draft legislation obtained by Motherboard.
The bill would amend the city’s existing administrative code on aviation to severely restrict drones within city limits, essentially banning them except under very specific circumstances.
The measure, set to be announced by council members Paul Vallone and Daniel Garodnick on Wednesday, bans drones within five miles of an airport (which encompasses most of the city), and within a quarter mile of a school, hospital, church, or “open-air assembly,” provisions which also make it nearly impossible to fly in most of the city’s five boroughs.
In order to pass, it would need support from a majority of the city’s 51 council members and would first need to move through a committee process. At this early stage, it’s hard to say whether it has the support needed to move through council.
The bill does not restrict drone use for “agencies of the city,” meaning the New York City Police Department would still be allowed to fly drones, something it has expressed interest in doing in the past.
Beyond that, the bill would ban flying at night, during bad weather, outside line of sight of the operator, and flights that go above 400 feet. It also specifically bans drones equipped with weapons or a “dangerous instrument” and bans drones “for the purpose of conducting surveillance.”
If enacted, anyone who violates the ban could be subject to a $1,000 fine and a year in jail. The lesser infractions (flying at night, flying in bad weather) carry a punishment of up to $250 and 15 days in jail.
It defines an “unmanned aerial vehicle” as any “vehicle capable of flight without a human pilot on board that is operated either autonomously by computers or by an individual from outside the vehicle,” a fairly broad interpretation that could ban tiny, remote-controlled helicopters and other toys.
Earlier this summer, Vallone threatened to ban drones that “endanger the lives” of its citizens—this bill appears to do that, and much more. In the last year or so, the city has had several high-profile drone and model aircraft incidents: A man in Brooklyn died when the fuel-powered remote-controlled helicopter he was piloting partially decapitated him (it was a stunt gone terribly wrong); a man in Midtown crashed into a high rise; and two hobbyist pilots became involved in a police snafu when an NYPD helicopter chased their drone.
Vallone’s bill does say that drones may be flown “in any location designed for such avigation by the department of parks and recreation,” meaning that it’s possible the city will set up specific drone and model aircraft parks for hobbyists to fly in. The bill also protects the ability of drone pilots to fly indoors.
Many people have already suggested that flying drones in New York City is illegal according to Federal Aviation Administration regulations, but that’s not the case: The FAA says no one may fly within five miles of an airport without first contacting air traffic control. Many drone hobbyists are able to make a quick phone call to get permission to fly (a process that’s less onerous than it sounds, according to several drone hobbyists I’m familiar with)—this bill would remove that protection.
It’s also unclear whether or not New York City has the authority to regulate airspace. In the past, the FAA has been the only agency—at a federal, local, or state level— with authority to enact specific airspace rules.
As an aside, it’s worth noting that Vallone has seemingly created a new word in this bill: To “avigate.”
Avigate or not, it looks like Vallone is going to at least try to push this legislation through and then let the issue play out in the court system. “New York City can regulate drones now without waiting for the FAA to update federal regulations or for a tragedy to happen,” he told the New York Daily News.