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Can You Fly a Drone in Central Park (NYC)?

Central Park is one of the most famed and beloved locations the whole world over, let alone in New York. Central Park Conservancy states that the park receives 42 million visitors per year.

If you go, can you fly your drone in Central Park NYC?

Drones are outlawed in New York City as a whole, which includes the entirety of Central Park. The park attracts too many large crowds for it to be feasible to fly your drone. Citizens and tourists are supposed to call 911 if they spot a drone flying in the area.

Today’s guide will expand further on the legalities of flying a drone in Central Park, so make sure you don’t miss it!

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Are you allowed to fly a drone in Central Park?

Many parks have rules banning drones outright, and that’s the case in Central Park as well.

One of these laws is the New York City Administrative Code §10-126, which we talked about in our article on New York drone laws.

» MORE: Drone Laws in New York

In that code, drone pilots are prohibited from operating a drone (including taking off or landing) “at any place within the limits of the city other than places of landing designated by the department of transportation or the port of New York authority.”

Since we know you’re wondering, no, Central Park is not a permitted place of landing.

That said, you could theoretically launch or land your drone in Central Park if you had an emergency.

For instance, if you were legally flying your drone somewhere in the area and you had to suddenly land your drone in Central Park because the UAV was malfunctioning or having another issue, that’s permissible.

You can even launch a drone from Central Park but only in emergency situations. Everyday flight is not permitted for commercial or recreational drone pilots.

There’s yet another law barring drone flight in Central Park, and that’s New York City’s City Restriction.

This law makes it flat-out illegal to fly a drone in New York City, and that does indeed include Central Park as well.

We have to mention the New York City Park Rule 1-05(r)(2) too.

According to that law:

“No person shall engage in any toy or model aviation, model boating, model automobiling, or activity involving other similar devices except at such times and at such places designated or maintained for such purposes. Violation of this paragraph constitutes a misdemeanor.”

New York City Park Rule 1-05(r)(2)

Can you fly a drone right outside Central Park?

Central Park and its expansive 843 acres are off-limits to you, which you find disappointing. Can you at least fly your drone outside of the confines of the park?

No, you cannot. The NYC City Restriction makes it quite clear that drones are not allowed in all of New York City.

New York City as a whole is 300.46 square miles, and it’s all forbidden for drone operation unless in an absolute emergency.

We discussed why in our post about another part of New York where drones are not allowed, Brooklyn.

» MORE: Can You Fly a Drone in Brooklyn?

The city is simply too crowded for flying a drone to be feasible. After all, New York City is the most densely populated of all the major cities in the entire United States.

Does Central Park offer more breathing room than a NYC city street? Admittedly, yes, but that doesn’t make it any more permissible for flight.

The park is far more crowded than many city parks, and with bodies of water and surrounding skyscrapers, there are simply too many obstacles.

Most importantly, when people visit a place like Central Park, they expect it to be a moderately quiet, tranquil experience. We here on the blog live and breathe drones but not everyone does.

The average person might find drones scary, annoying, and/or invasive, all of which are valid viewpoints. You have to keep your drone out of Central Park.

What happens if you get caught flying a drone in Central Park?

There are emergency situations and then there’s intentionally flying your drone in or around Central Park. What would happen in the latter situation?

Well, you should know that NYC’s City Restriction does recommend that civilians who see someone illegally operating a drone–be that in Central Park or anywhere else in New York City–are supposed to call 911.

According to Andrew M. Stengel, a drone lawyer, here is what can follow after that fateful 911 call.

Reckless endangerment charge

Using or crashing your drone in Central Park or elsewhere in New York City can lead to a reckless endangerment charge.

If this is your first offense, then the full charge will be Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree. This is a Class A misdemeanor.

Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree refers to creating a “risk of serious physical injury” by behaving recklessly.

Stengel Law states that “Serious physical injury is defined as a substantial risk of death as a result of protracted disfigurement, impairment of health or function of a bodily organ.”

That being said, you could still be charged with Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree even if no one suffers an injury.

How so? “The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant ignored a known and substantial risk that could create a serious physical injury,” says the drone lawyer.

“The act of flying a drone in an area where people are gathered or known to gather may itself be sufficient to charge and prove Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree because a drone may be heavy enough to cause injury and carry a risk of crashing, being misdirected by the wind, or otherwise going astray.”

You could also be charged with Reckless Endangerment in the First Degree, which is the more severe crime of the two.

Stengel Law notes that the difference is that a first-degree charge requires “acting with depraved indifference to human life and engaging in conduct that creates a grave risk of death to another.”

Unlike Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree, which is a Class A misdemeanor, Reckless Endangerment in the First Degree is a Class D felony.

That said, it’s harder to prove a first-degree charge in a court of law. Even a drone pilot in New York who commandeered a UAV and flew it near a helicopter belonging to the New York Police Department ultimately was not charged with Reckless Endangerment in the First Degree crime.

Fines

Violating any of New York City’s drone laws will usually result in a fine of $1,000 or higher.

The police have the right at the time of arresting you whether to charge you with only violating the New York City Park Rule 1-05(r)(2) or the Administrative Code §10-126.

Prison sentences

Depending on the severity of your crime and the charges that are brought against you, you should also expect to face some time behind bars as well.

At the very least, your sentence could be 90 days, but a Class A misdemeanor can also bring with it up to three years in jail.

Should you be charged with Reckless Endangerment in the First Degree–which we’ll remind you in New York State is a Class D felony–then you might have a significantly longer prison sentence.

At the very least, you could be put behind bars for two years, and at most, seven years.

Probation periods without a jail sentence are likelier for non-violent crimes, which flying a drone recklessly is not.

Conclusion 

Central Park is a must-see destination for residents and tourists of New York City alike. NYC’s local laws forbid drone pilots from flying anywhere within the city limits, which include Central Park.

Anyone who sees a drone pilot violating the laws is encouraged to contact law enforcement. You’d then be penalized with some pretty severe charges which can include a felony charge depending on how egregious the crime is.

You can always fly your drone at the State Island Boat Graveyard, the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Flying Field, Senator Speno National Park, New Rochelle, LaTourette Park Model Airfield, or Tanner Park instead.

At any of these locales, there is no risk of committing a crime since these are legal areas to fly!

References:
Central Park Conservancy (link)
New York City Park Rule 1-05(r)(2) (link)
Andrew M. Stengel (link)