Written By Adam Furgang
I have been living in New York State (NYS) almost my entire life. I grew up in Queens during the last great age of childhood freedom, the 70s & 80s, and I'm generation X through and through. I went to grade school in Queens and I had the privilege of attending The High School of Art and Design in Manhattan. I took the subway to school for three years in a row! I came from several generations of NYS residents, and my father ran an antique business on the lower east side of Manhattan, back before it was a hipster playground. Back then, the lower east side was a hardcore heroin haven that spawned famous writers like Jim Carrol. The Beastie Boys shot the cover for Paul's Boutique on Ludlow Street, and if you have the vinyl foldout you can even see my father's old antique store sign, Antiques Market.
In the late 80s, I went away to school in Philadelphia. I came home every summer, but maybe those years away broke the spell New York City (NYC) had on me. After graduating and returning home in 92', NYC did not seem as friendly anymore. Maybe it was because I was becoming an adult? There were parking regulations, ever-rising subway fairs, city tax, state tax, sales tax, and an army of cleverly-placed speed traps in a city where nobody drove the speed limit—ever. My dad used to drive like Mad Max! The more I paid attention, the more I realized that everything about NYC seemed geared toward helping the city itself, not the people who lived there. By the time I was in my 30s, I had had enough. After countless traffic snarls at all hours of the day, rising rent costs, endless car dances with alternate-side-of-the-street parking to supposedly clean the permafilthy streets, and a ticket I received for a car inspection that was outdated by one day, I had had enough. The car inspection thing really got to me, too, because it was very likely that my car was being checked daily and the second it was not in compliance a ticket was issued. No friendly reminder was ever placed on my car to tell me that my inspection would soon expire. That's when I knew I was just a source of possible noncompliant revenue for the NYC monster. I decided to move upstate, to Albany, NY.
Albany and the surrounding area has been a decent place to live. Sure the winters suck, but homes are cheap. The schools are good. And there is nature in every direction. My neighbor once parked a full-sized RV camper out in front of his house for the entire summer and no one gave a crap. He even had electricity running to it. No ticket was issued. Nobody cared. People park the wrong way on my street all the time. No tickets are ever issued. Perhaps it would be different in downtown Albany, but the point is that life is easier here than it is in NYC. It's cheaper, too. And although the snowplow hits and ruins my lawn every winter...they do come and attempt to fix it every spring.
And now I'll get to my point—my fledgling drone business. For almost two decades my wife and I have been freelancing from home as writers. Since she does the lion's share of the work, I have always explored other areas to try and make money. Since I am an artist with a soft spot for photography, drones were a inevitability for me. I picked up a Mavic Pro in the summer of 2017 and one thing led to another. Then after doing my homework I realized I'd never be allowed to make a dime with my drone unless I got a license from the FAA. Wow. OK, so that's not New York State's fault.
So fast forward to 2018. I take a few Hudson Valley Community College (HVCC) drone courses. I study my ass off for the first time since my Chemistry Regents exam in 1988 and I pass the wacky FAA test with an 85. (I've always been a B student.) Then I continue on with my baby steps toward an actual business. This is where the party starts. I come up with the cool business name Droneopolis and am shocked that it is available as a Gmail account. I quickly snag Instagram and Twitter too. It was meant to be, I thought to myself. Droneopolis! (Some squatter has the .com, but whatever.)
Then I start investigating what is required to start a small business in New York State. I wind up using LegalZoom to get the ball rolling and start a LLC. The first hurdle comes when LegalZoom contacts me and informs me that even though the name Droneopolis is awesome and available, NYS will not allow me to have the name Droneopolis because they say it is not an actual word, or based on an actual word, and if I want to use Droneopolis I must explain to the state what it means. Baffled by this small speed bump I sit for a few minutes and think, research, and write. I come up with something and feed it back to LegalZoom who then feeds it back to NYS. I say: "The name Droneopolis is based on the English word metropolis, which means 'A central or principal place of activity.' in this case, the company's central activity will be related to drone photography." Thankfully NYS accepted my explanation.
Onward and upward, I hope.
The next wacky requirement I find is that to start an LLC in NYS you need what's called a Certificate of Publication. In a nutshell, NYS requires a new LLC to publish a legal notice in two newspapers for six weeks. One needs to be a weekly paper and the other needs to be a daily paper. God knows what NYS will do when printed papers disappear entirely. Publishing a Certificate of Publication online only, even though no one under 70 reads a printed paper, is not allowed. So I dance this dance and move forward. As of this writing, I'm still within the six week period and waiting for an affidavit of publication from the two papers so I can then move forward and send that all to NYS along with $50. This is just more pay-to-play business requirements and it reminds me of those wacky laws that are still on the books. Check out this post here to see some. Here is one I actually agree with: "While riding in an elevator, one must talk to no one, and fold his hands while looking toward the door."
So as I jump through the hoops for NYS I slowly build my website, I design a logo. I have a business card printed, and I start gathering up things I'll likely need to conduct responsible drone business activities. A get a nice first aid kit for my car, some safety cones for launch and landing area designation, a scanner radio to monitor ATC if I ever find myself close to an airport, a fluorescent orange safety vest, etc. Aside from the drones themselves and the two HVCC courses I took, there was nothing that was incredibly expensive to get the business started. LegalZoom was probably the next biggest cost. I already owned the drones and camera equipment I plan to use.
The next thing I learn about is liability insurance—and this is where my head splits open and drone pieces fall out. I start making calls to insurance companies about liability insurance. Will the drones be insured? Will the camera equipment be insured? What drones do you own? How fast do they go? How much do they weigh? Then this funny question: "Does the insured have a FAA approved commercial UAS application? And what is the application number?" What does that mean, I ask myself. I wonder if they are asking if I have an actual software application for a mobile device. Or maybe they want to know if I have a FAA waiver for some commercial use? Or perhaps the question is asking if I am planning some commercial application/use with my drones. Only FAA certified SUAS pilots can operate commercially, so the question confuses me. I know it's not asking about my remote pilot certificate because that's another question. Then I see another question regarding waivers so I know its not referring to that. So I ask the insurance agent for clarification and I get no response. They obviously don't know. This same question is on multiple applications. Maybe someone who reads this can point me to (links please) what that question is referring to.
The end result is that the cheapest I was quoted for liability insurance for my one-man drone business was $1,800 for one year. It would be another $500 on top of that if I conducted any traditional photography business. To insure the drones themselves would be another $500 on top of that. They seemed to be just flinging $tuff and seeing what sticks. The insurance companies make outrageous prices and see what sucker will bite the bait off the hook. My gut instinct is that the insurance companies are not there yet. Maybe elsewhere in the country, but not here in NYS anyway. Or maybe NYS is just too damn expensive. On one application I was asked if I'd be contacting the surrounding business for permission before flying. I honestly answered no. The weather in Albany, NY sucks for a good portion of the year. So far no one even seems to want drone images. I don't see aerial images in use on local real estate or business websites. I can't imagine going to photograph some guy's pizza shop to provide him with a few digital images of his business and then having to contact surrounding businesses just to satisfy some arbitrary question on a form. If I don't contact them and there is an accident, or if I do contact them and there is an accident, how exactly would the result be different? It did not say I'd seek permission, just that I'd inform them.
Small side note here that definitely requires a post of its own—I have been investigating flying a drone in the Catskills. This is one of two very large NYS parks. One of the biggest state parks in the country, if I remember correctly. I literally made dozens of calls to dozens of people who never answer their phones. Some call me back. Long story short here: A permit is required to fly a drone in the Catskills within the land areas that are permitted. Some areas are off limits no matter what. And after I finally got the application to apply for the permit to fly my drone, it states that I'd need liability insurance to even be considered. I'm not a big time film studio. I'm just one man. Flying in the Catskills (which I already did once in 2017 before I was FAA certified) would be for me to shoot some nice photos/videos and that's it. One guy I spoke to talked down to me and berated me on the phone and complained about the nuisance of drones to the pristine landscape. (Never mind the fact that the Catskills and many other forests were clear-cut several times over the last few hundred years.) Rather than bring that up, I mentioned snowmobiles and hunting/guns to him and he paused for a moment to think his statement about drones being a nuisance. I know people fly drones in the Catskills. I've seen the photos. The last thing I learned from the DEC was that you need a permit to take any pictures in the Catskills that will be used commercially. I asked him for the information so I could get that permit (I've been taking pictures there for 4 decades now) and he shrugged it off and said they don't really enforce that. Regulations, permits, and actual enforcement seem to be three very different beasts in NYS and with the FAA. I keep thinking I'm just a sucker for not just taking my P4P+ out and shooting what I want when I want—everyone else seems to be doing so.
The next bit of wonderful news about NYS is in regards to a supercool NYS drone insurance company called Verifly. If you are a SUAS pilot you likely already know the company and their app. They smartly provide drone insurance to pilots as needed. Their company model is brilliant since a drone is grounded most of the time sitting in a Nanuk or Pelican case on your floor. And what is the point of continual insurance if a drone isn't always being flown, and when the drone is flown the locations can vary considerably? And now, as I'm quickly learning, drone jobs are not that plentiful. Not where I live. Not yet anyway. I think it's spreading from west to east like Chuck E. Cheese's and it might be a while before the masses catch on. So for someone like me, with zero done jobs so far, Verifly would be my go-to choice for liability insurance. Paying a small fee per job is better than the $1,800 I was quoted, at least until business is booming. This is all great, except for the fact that NYS has yet to allow Verifly to issue insurance here. North Dakota is the only other state along with New York that is not on board. See the list of participating Verifly states here. There could be many reasons why this is the case. I think it's because New York State sucks. It's a mess of laws, regulations, and paperwork all with no coordination.
So when will Verifly be in NYS? The people at Verifly don't even seem to know. Here is a Phantom Pilots thread about this topic that was started in December, 2016. The thread is a sad chatter of desperate NYS people who would like access to this clever drone liability insurance service. Verifly comments here and there and can't offer any timetable or concrete info except to state that: "We are still waiting on DFS. It is very frustrating, especially as we are a NYC company! We appreciate everyone shares our frustration and hope that we will have a positive conclusion soon..." Fast forward to the Verifly app today and still no such luck. My gut tells me that NYS will get with the Verifly program one LAANC come here. Maybe.
My personal experience with NYS is not just my own personal opinion. I did some digging and found this newsday.com article stating: "NY State second-worst in business tax climate, report says." The article references this 2018 taxfoundation.org PDF. According to a usatoday.com article, (*scroll to #35) they state that: "Additionally, the Tax Foundation ranks New York’s business tax climate as the worst of any state after only Hawaii." Business Insider lists NYS as #28 in their article on, "The best and worst states to start a business."
And what about LAANC? The new technology that will let me get supposedly fast manual FAA authorization to fly in the KALB Class C airspace? According to the FAA: "Wave 5 August 16, 2018 Eastern North USA."