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Drones could soon be used for inspecting NYC buildings

The city’s Department of Buildings could soon be using drones to carry out building façade inspections.

New York City Council today (Wednesday) gave the go-ahead for the DOB to study the feasibility of using drones to inspect buildings.

Building façade inspections are intended to ensure that the façades of buildings higher than six stories are safe and secure. They often involve erecting costly scaffolding around the buildings for inspectors to take a proper look at the façade.

Supports say the use of drone technology may be a way to improve inspections, enabling more thorough examinations and protecting pedestrians, but there are concerns about safety, privacy and federal rules.

“Today’s vote by the City Council was an important step forward toward creating a safe and sensible system for commercial drone use in New York City,” said Carlo Scissura, president of the New York Building Congress.

“Drones offer a 21st-century solution to provide more detailed building inspections, increase public safety and reduce costs. New technologies, like drones, are already being used effectively around the country and the world, so it is essential that New York embrace innovation and not be left behind.” 

Current New York City regulations prohibit aircraft from taking off and landing in the five boroughs, except at public and private airports, heliports, seaplane bases and in emergencies. And FAA airport regulations ban aircraft from most of the five boroughs, with the exception of lower Manhattan, the northern edge of the Bronx, the western half of Brooklyn and most of Staten Island.

The study will help the DOB determine whether flying of drones would conflict with any rules by city agencies or the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and whether they would actually help public

Under the Facade Inspection and Safety Program, formerly known as Local Law 11, owners of all buildings over six stories tall must conduct a facade inspection and make needed repairs every five years.

Drones cannot replace the mandated hands-on inspections, but supporter say they could add an extra layer of oversight that prioritizes safety.

Council members Robert Cornegy and Ben Kallos sponsored the bill to conduct a study into the use of drones after lamenting on the 303 miles of scaffolding that crowds NYC streets.

According to Kallos, “If laid out side to side, city scaffolding would stretch from Central Park to the Canadian border. The average age of a sidewalk shed is 308 days. One is old enough to have its bar mitzvah, which is 13, and some are old enough to vote.”

A spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Buildings commented, “We are always supportive of exploring new technologies to keep New Yorkers safe, including using drones to supplement up-close physical inspections. We agree with the Council that drones can never fully replace the value of up-close hands-on inspections conducted by trained professionals. We look forward to continue working with them on this legislation.”

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