Tips For Flying Drones In An Urban Environment

Featured image for the drone photography bible article titled Tips For Flying Drones In An Urban Environment

While it may be tempting for drone pilots to take advantage of the empty city streets during the COVID-19 quarantine, it’s vital to know the rules & regulations before flying drones in an urban environment like London or NYC.

To film this video, our crew chartered a boat from Hunter Fishing, based out of Brooklyn, NY. Launching our drones from the boat on the East River allows us to avoid flying over people and taking off/landing our drones within the city limits. Although we flew our drones around well known landmarks, we still had to comply with the FAA regulations and limitations of the waivers and authorizations we received.


If you are unfamiliar with the drone laws in NYC, they’re more strict than other cities for many reasons. The city has declared it illegal to fly and any passerby who spots a drone is obligated to report it to 911. However, The FAA ultimately establishes and regulates the airspace on the federal level which supersedes any local policy.

Complying with the FAA’s rule about not flying over people remains difficult in an urban setting like NYC. The population density of New York City is 25,000 people/sq. mi, which is 270x higher than the national average of 93 persons/sq. mi. In addition, it has also been declared illegal to take off or land a drone in NYC.

To read more about specifics for NYC drone laws, Drone U’s article, Flying Drones in NYC – Drone Laws Explained, lays it all out.

The location of your flight determines what authorizations and licenses you will need in order to successfully operate you drone. As the popularity of drones increased over the years, the laws implemented by the FAA have gotten more strict for both recreation and commercial pilots.

As of December 10, 2019, there were 1,509,617 drones registered with the FAA. This includes 1,085,392 recreational drones and 420,340 commercial drones, as well as 160,748 remote pilots certified.


The main difference between the two is that licensed operators can fly for commercial use, meaning for profit, while hobbyists cannot profit from their drone footage in any way.

– Jovan Tanasijevic, Above Summit

Above Summit specializes in drone aerial production. Our staff of commercial drone pilots all hold a Part 107 License and our studio holds and files for many authorizations in regulated airspace. For NYC, we filed for LaGuardia Class B Airspace, among other major airports such as Boston Logan Class B Airspace.

In addition, we also hold a Daytime Waiver which is then attached to these authorizations to allow us to film past civil twilight with the proper strobes and safety protocol. Regardless of whether you are Part 107 or a hobbyist, always maintain line of sight with your drone and bring a visual observer to aid you when operating in an urban environment.

Controversially, recreational pilots are not subject to as stringent of regulations as commercial drone pilots. However, all drone operators, recreational and commercial, are required to register their aircraft with the FAA and comply with airspace regulations and safety protocols determined by the FAA. These policies change regularly so stay up to date!

To apply for an FAA authorization please keep the following in mind:

  • Drone operators need to hold a Part 107 license to apply for an FAA Authorization in regulated airspace
  • Provide the location of the operation, radius, height, and time frame as well as any waivers that may be required.
  • It is also good practice to include safety procedures in your request

Before going airborne, we check for any city, state, and federal laws that apply while on the ground. This can vary greatly across the state and country, as a whole, so it is an important part of mission planning and coordination with various local, state, and federal agencies.

– Jovan Tanasijevic, Above Summit


Being aware of changing air traffic, especially in an urban area where there may be Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs), as well as your proximity to structures, people and vehicular traffic is an absolute must.

Before applying for an airspace authorization, we research the regulations at the project location. A good place to start is at Visualize It, the FAA Arcgis Database. Other resources include:

If the location falls within a prohibited or restricted area, we apply for an authorization or waiver using the FAA Drone Zone. Here, drone operators can register their new aircraft and request site-specific authorizations by providing the radius, height, time-frame, safety procedures as well as other relevant documentation.

If you are just starting out with drones, find an area you are comfortable to practice in before flying in more complex airspace found in urban centers. When hiring a professional drone pilot, make sure they represent an understanding of the airspace regulations, local laws and explain their safety protocols.

At Above Summit, we take time to research each location and apply for any necessary authorizations at least 5 to 30 days prior to our shoot so that we have enough time to receive a response from the FAA and coordinate with our clients. Check out the Know Before You Fly page for more info

About the author – Above Summit

Drone Photography Bible would like to thank Above Summit for submitting this guest article. They are an aerial production studio serving the Greater Boston Area. Their clients vary from Commercial Real Estate Investment Firms to Construction Sites and Academic Campuses. In 2019 Above Summit founded the Boston Drone Film Festival to celebrate the talents of aerial photographers, filmmakers and 360 creatives, and provide a platform in order to do so!

You can find some of his work included in this article as well as on the links below:

Join the Drone Photography Bible community on Instagram

Do you love drone photography? Click through and follow us on Instagram for drone photographs from some of the best drone pilots at the moment.

As always, if you want to have your drone photography featured on the Drone Photography Bible Instagram feed, tag @dronephotographybible and hashtag #dronephotographybible. Your photos will feature on our Instagram as well as on the drone photography galley on our website.

Want your images to feature on our articles? We dont pay for images but do give shout outs, promotion and praise. Reach out to us on our Instagram to show us the photo you want to feature!

Finally… Do you want write for Drone Photography Bible? We are accepting guest and featured writers now. Check out the write for us page for more details.

Featured image: Thank you to Tony Williams for use of his image via Pexels.

What do you think?

Translate »