One of the most photographed landmarks in my region is the Statue of Liberty. It was something that I definitely wanted to capture with my Air 2s. But it is not an easy location to figure out how to fly. The airspace is congested and there are not many places to take off. Furthermore, the regulations are confusing in regards to the legality of flying in this location. So how do you fly a drone at the Statue of Liberty?
So how can you fly a drone at the Statue of Liberty? First of all, I would suggest that you not fly here unless you are an experienced and knowledgeable pilot. You don’t need to get a Part 107, but it would not hurt to have the knowledge that goes along with having a Part 107 (check out 10 Reasons to Get a Part 107). Make sure you know how your drone operates and understand RTH functions. If you are flying a DJI drone, you also need to be aware of geofencing.
There is no LAANC authorization needed. Newark International’s airspace is above 400ft at this location. You can check any one of the approved LAANC providers to verify. There is a list of LAANC providers listed on the FAA’s website.
Hudson River Exclusion Zone
If you open up the Aloft app to verify the airspace, much of the Hudson River is shaded in red. This area is what is known as the Hudson River Exclusion Zone. This may make it seem like it is a no-go. But then you open the OpenSky app it does not show the exclusion zone as a prohibited area. Neither does DJI geofence this area as might be expected if it was prohibited.
So what is up? Let’s look at what the Exclusion Zone is. You can read all about the Exclusion Zone at https://www.ecfr.gov/current/title-14/chapter-I/subchapter-F/part-93. Scroll all the way to the bottom of the page. It is the very last section. The Exclusion Zone does not prohibit flight. What it does is create special flight rules.
Exclusion Zone Flight Rules
(A) Maintain an indicated airspeed not to exceed 140 knots.
The drone has no problem doing this.
(b) Anti-collision lights and aircraft position/navigation lights shall be on, if equipped. Use of landing lights is recommended.
Notice that it says “if equipped.” But lights can easily be put on a drone.
(c) Self announce position on the appropriate radio frequency for the East River or Hudson River as depicted on the New York VFR Terminal Area Chart (TAC) and/or New York Helicopter Route Chart.
Drone operators are not allowed to use radio communications. But drone pilots can monitor the radio.
(d) Have a current New York TAC chart and/or New York Helicopter Route Chart in the aircraft and be familiar with the information contained therein.
The chart would not be kept in the aircraft, but you can certainly have a copy with you.
As you can see, these special flight rules are not written with drones in mind. They apply to manned aircraft which will be flying at a higher altitude.
There is nothing specifically prohibiting drones from operating in the Exclusion Zone. At the same time, it is not clear that drones can be used in this area. The lack of clarity is the reason why one app says that flights are prohibited (Aloft) and another app (OpenSky) says flights are allowed.
However, you need to know that there is one important prohibited area. The Statue of Liberty is a National Landmark. Therefore, it is prohibited to fly directly over it. In fact, you need to stay at least 400 ft away.
If you are flying a DJI drone you will not be allowed to fly there because the entirety of Liberty Island is geofenced. If you try to breach the boundary, your drone will hover in place.
Be careful not to fly to the opposite side of the island. If you lose connection and your drone tries to return home, your drone will hover in place when it hits the geofence until the battery dies and your drone falls into the water. This is not a bad thing. You want to keep your RTH low in this area and the Statue of Liberty is 300ft in the air. The last thing you want is for your drone to fly into the Statue.
Figuring out where to take off is more complicated than the airspace. The easiest place to take off would be Liberty State Park in New Jersey, but it is prohibited to fly from a state park in New Jersey.
If you are thinking about taking off from the New York City side, realize that it is illegal to take off or land in the city, except for designated parks.
Flying from a boat is a great option if you have a boat available to you. That is probably the best option of them all. You could take off from almost anywhere on the Hudson. But if you are taking off from land, there are few options publicly available. You may be able to fly from private property if you have a connection. So as you can see, finding a place to fly will be your greatest challenge.
When to Fly
The best time to fly is early in the morning. I started my flight at 6 am (before sunrise) on a Saturday morning and was done around 8 am. If you watched my video, you can see that the area was fairly quiet considering this is New York. The touring helicopters start flying around 8:30 am. I would not fly at this location later in the day. The airspace is just too congested. Plus you will want to avoid the tourists visiting the Statue of Liberty.
Regardless, the early morning makes for a beautiful time of the day. You can get the statue during the blue and golden hours.
Have you flown a drone at the Statue of Liberty? Feel free to share a link to your video or photos in the comments. What was your experience like? Do you have any good advice?