Last Wednesday, the City Council has approved plans to study how drones can be used for building facade inspections in New York City. The plans to study the use of drones for building facade inspections were well received within the drone industry. They offer a rare opportunity for an otherwise grounded industry in New York City.
NYC will study the use of drones for building facade inspections
For years commercial drone operators have fought to open up the skies over New York City for the use of drones in the film a real estate business, but with little success.
“This is an enormous step in the right direction,” said Jes Chosid, CEO of Reign Maker, a drone company that is based in lower Manhattan that uses unmanned aircraft to make details 3-D models of government facilities and buildings, reports Crain’s.
The New York City Department of Buildings will not complete the study for the use of drones for building facade inspections for at least a year. And, after the study is completed the department will have to make new rules about when physical building inspections are required and when such inspections can be performed by unmanned aircraft. So it will take some time before we see drones flying around buildings in NYC, but this is an important first step.
According to Chosid, New York City is one of the hardest places in the country to fly drones commercially, second only to Washington DC. A decades-old city statute requires that all aircraft, including drones only take-off and land in areas that are controlled by the Port Authority. This means that outside of five designated areas, flying your drone in New York City is almost always illegal. This has not stopped some recreational drone pilots and journalists from flying their unmanned aircraft in the city, but it has made commercial drone operations in New York City nearly impossible.
Example of equipment used during a traditional, manual building facade inspection. Photo credit: Reign Maker
Commercial drone operators have tried for years to change these rules especially after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) made commercial drone operations legal in 2016 with the introduction of Part 107.
Back in 2018 new bills were proposed by councilmen Justin Brannan and Paul Vallone that would have allowed for more commercial drone applications in NYC but these bills all stalled, unfortunately.
Only after Erica Tishman, the architect who was hit and killed by a falling piece of building facade in Times Square, did the idea to use drones to perform building inspections gain traction again.
In January right before the bill for drone inspections was introduced, Vallone wrote in an op-ed that, “Failure to modernize can have heartbreaking consequences.” The building inspections that property owners and landlords are required by law to perform every five years can be done more quickly and efficiently by drones, said the councilman.
Chosid added that drones can also help to reduce the scaffolding in NYC that is needed to perform the manual building inspections. It sometimes takes years for the scaffolds to be removed from the city sidewalks.
“The drone, meanwhile, is a very quick scan. You’re just taking a photo, taking a photo, taking a photo,” Chosid said. “Then if you see issues that require physical inspections, only then would you maybe need scaffolding.”
Tech:NYC, the city’s industry lobbying group, supported the bill, as did Chinese drone maker DJI. The bill was also backed by the Real Estate Board of New York and the New York Building Congress. Under the approved bill, the Department of Buildings study is due at the end of October 2021.
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