The United States has more than 108,000 cities while there are 76 in the United Kingdom, more than 7,986 in Canada, and 687 in China.
You’re curious about what’s legal when using your drone in a city.
Can you fly a drone in a city?
While you can usually fly a drone in a city, the rules are completely at the city’s discretion. The more populated the city, such as New York City or Washington, D.C., the lower the likelihood of drone access. However, even smaller cities can forbid drones just to keep the peace!
Today’s article will examine city drone usage rules, offering pointers so you always know when you can fly.
There’s lots of great information to come, so make sure you keep reading before you head out with your drone!
To help, we’ve identified and reviewed the best drone courses for beginners and professionals.
Can you fly a drone in a city?
Okay, so let’s start with the big question. You live in a city, or you’ve commuted here for work or fun.
Can you launch your drone into the sky and spend a few hours sightseeing and capturing videos or images on your drone camera?
More than likely, yes, but without any guarantees, of course.
The following criteria indicate that you likely cannot use your drone in a specific city. However, keep in mind that this criteria does not necessarily apply to every city but just acts as an indicator.
Proximity to airports
If you get the chance to travel the world with your drone, you’ll learn that countries do not want drone pilots comingling with manned aircraft such as airplanes or helicopters.
Those vehicles carry hundreds to thousands of people and other types of precious cargo. Drones getting in the way can interrupt manned aircraft operations or put the manned aircraft at risk.
Bringing us back to cities, the closer the city is to an airport, the lower the likelihood you can use your drone.
The general rule is to stay five miles from airports, but that could be less distance in some countries.
In fact, certain cities would otherwise allow drones to operate, but their proximity to an airport makes that impossible under that country’s drone laws. You see that a lot in the US due to FAA regulations.
Proximity to military bases
Military bases receive a similar level of protection. Rather than housing commercial manned aircraft, these bases have military manned aircraft.
The staff that uses this aircraft rely on it regularly, so barring drones minimizes the risk of damage.
It’s also for proprietary governmental reasons that drones shouldn’t snoop around military bases. That’s just like how you wouldn’t trespass onto a military base on foot.
The same restrictions apply when using a drone around a military base as an airport. That is, you cannot operate your drone within five miles of the military base.
If a city is within that stretch of five miles, then you cannot use your drone there.
Populous vs. less populated
Heavily populated cities typically put the kibosh on drone use.
Take New York City, for example. It’s the most populated city in the US, followed by Los Angeles and Chicago. You also cannot use your drone within NYC.
After all, New York is more than populated but densely populated. There’s just not a lot of room for a drone to fly even if you could.
You also have to consider that in many parts of the world, it’s illegal to use your drone to fly too close to crowds or operate it over people’s heads.
Certain exceptions apply, of course.
For instance, if your drone weighs little enough, you can operate it differently than a heavier drone. You can also use your drone closer to people you know who agree to participate in your drone operations.
If you use your drone in a populated city, it becomes far more difficult to avoid flying too close to crowds.
It’ll seem like on every street, you run into a new throng of people, which takes away from your enjoyment of your drone.
That’s not to say that less populated cities automatically welcome drones with open arms. Far from it! That’s at the discretion of each individual city.
However, you can usually rely on the rule that the more populated the city, the less permissible drone use.
Proximity to major entertainment/historical/natural attractions
What is the city known for? Does it have a lot of natural attractions such as state parks or national preserves? That could indicate to you whether you can use your drone there.
We must make it clear that this varies, but in many parts of the world, you’re forbidden from entering major parks and nature preserves with your drone.
Far too many times, pilots end up disturbing people and/or wildlife or even causing damage to the natural structures that comprise the park or preserve.
Drones have only become more popular, so the organizations that run these parks have cracked down on UAV usage.
Cities with historical attractions like old architecture tend to take a similar stance. Protecting the wonders of the city usurps someone’s interest in flying a drone there, so you might be outlawed. Perhaps you need a permit.
If the city is a major entertainment hub, that too can affect whether you can use your drone. We’ll use the Las Vegas Strip for example.
You can’t get onto the Strip with your drone at all, which can interrupt drone flight plans for your Vegas trip.
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How do you know if you can fly a drone in a city?
While the information we provided in the last section acts as a helpful litmus test for whether you can possibly use a drone in the city, we want to again stress that that list is by no means definitive.
You want to be 100 percent certain that you can launch your drone, ideally before you do it. That’s how you avoid fines and even potential imprisonment.
The following tips will confirm whether you can legally fly your drone in a city.
Read up on local ordinances and laws
What’s the best place to start? With local laws!
If you’re based in the US or will travel here, we went through all states in the country and outlined local laws on our blog.
Just search for the state you’ll visit, and you’ll find the accompanying article detailing its regulations.
As predictable as city drone laws can be, some come out of left field, so it helps to read up.
Oh, and if you don’t see any local laws for the city you’ll visit, you should defer to any state laws, which might mention specific places that prohibit drones.
Use a drone map
The thing about city ordinances though is they’re not always current. For a more accurate gauge of what’s going on in your city in real time, use a drone map on your phone.
If you see red areas marked on the map, those spots indicate restricted airspace.
Venturing into that territory with your drone is illegal and could result in the aforementioned fines and sometimes even confiscation.
What about yellow areas?
You can legally fly in warning zones, but they’re yellow for a reason. Take heed, keep your head on a swivel, and don’t fly closer than you’re allowed to any structures or people.
Ask other drone pilots in the area
Do you know other drone enthusiasts who live in the city? Great! You can always contact your buddy and ask what they know about the rules for flying in that city.
Even if you’re visiting a place for the first time and don’t know anyone, you can quickly make friends using social media, Discord, and forums. The locals will happily clue you in on whether you can fly your drone.
Look for signs forbidding it
Finally, it doesn’t hurt to keep your eyes peeled for signs demarcating specific areas as no-drone zones. These signs act as a final warning to keep your distance, so look for any before you use your UAV.
Cities are a common sight across the world. Whether you can use a drone in a city varies, usually by criteria such as proximity to airports, the population in the area, and proximity to military zones.
However, the best way to confirm whether you should launch your drone is to use a drone map. The map will showcase restricted areas and any temporary restrictions, which usually lift in several hours or days.
Keep your drone out of restricted areas and no matter which city you visit, you’ll have a great time!