Read this before launching drones in the Adirondacks
By Megan Plete Postol
Flying a drone in the Adirondacks – what is okay and what is not? Many people, locals and visitors alike struggle to answer this question. Flying a drone is illegal in many parts of the Adirondacks, but not all. Let’s break it down.
Most of the confusion around where operating a drone is allowed or not allowed boils down to definition and classification. Drones are defined by the New York State Department of Conservation as “mechanized equipment,” and are referred to in regulations as unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS. So for legal requirements, drones must adhere to the same laws as other forms of mechanized, or motorized, equipment.
Check the signs
The land within the Adirondacks and the classifications it falls under matter too. In the Adirondack Park, it is legal to launch a drone anywhere the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) allows, except on state lands classified by the Adirondack State Land Master Plan (SLMP) as “Wilderness,” “Primitive” or “Canoe.”
DEC regulation states: “Public use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment and aircraft will be prohibited,” in a Wilderness Area. Drones are motorized, thus cannot be launched from these areas. Examples include (but limited to) the High Peaks Wilderness Area, Pharaoh Lake Wilderness Area, and Hoffman Notch Wilderness Area.
The same rules apply to areas classified as Primitive and Canoe Areas. DEC again states: “Drones are motorized equipment and the operation of drones on lands classified as Wilderness, Primitive, or Canoe is prohibited.”
In addition to launching legally, it has to be operated from a legal location. Meaning you can’t launch legally and then follow it as you walk down a designated Wilderness trail.
Any kind of mechanized equipment, which includes drones, under DEC regulations need a permit to operate in the High Peaks, or any other Wilderness Area. Permits are very rarely granted for special circumstances, and more commonly for administrative or emergency use. Administrative use in this instance refers to any drone use by DEC personnel, contractor or cooperator acting on behalf of, and with permission of, the DEC. Emergency use is defined by DEC as a sudden or unexpected event which causes or threatens imminent harm or injury to a person, or there is the possibility of loss of life, endangerment to the public at large, the environment and/or the state’s natural resources.
The DEC’s latest update regarding public policy on drone usage on state lands it manages is from 2021. This policy does not apply to lands owned/ and/or managed by New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, which has its own regulations, policy and permitting procedure.
Follow the FAA rules
In areas that drones are permitted to fly they must follow the FAA rules for recreational/hobby flights. This includes flying less than 400 feet above ground level, maintaining a visual line of sight of the aircraft at all times, and not flying over people.
The FAA oversees all air space, and you can find out if there are airspace restrictions where you are planning to fly using the agency’s B4UFLY mobile app.
Due to advancements in technology and the changing needs, DEC projected that this policy will be reviewed on an annual basis to ensure the direction in the policy is current and compliant with any new legal requirements. There have been no changes this year.
Editor’s note: We removed a sentence about flying over private land. In the Adirondacks and the rest of the state (and country), it is legal to operate a drone on private land with permission, as well as flying over other people’s private land.
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