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Using Drones to Conduct Façade Inspections

Local Law 102 of 2020

A new DOB report seeks to take building safety to new heights, by exploring the potential use of drones for building façade inspections.

This comprehensive agency report provides a deep dive into the regulatory landscape affecting unmanned aircraft systems use in New York City, the use of drones in other jurisdictions, and how drones can potentially be used to aid in safety inspections throughout the five boroughs.

“It is imperative that we continue to embrace the latest technologies and innovations in support of our mission to protect our fellow New Yorkers,” said Commissioner Melanie E. La Rocca. “Our report is the product of intensive research by DOB experts, and finds that when combined with traditional hands-on examinations, the effective use of drones could potentially result in more comprehensive building inspections, resulting in reduced inefficiencies and a safer New York City.”

New legislation and amendment to the NYC Code are required

Currently, legal drone use in New York City is restricted only to approved government agencies in response to specific emergency response situations. Changes to these restrictions allowing for commercial use of drones, such as during a FISP inspection of the exterior walls of a building, would require new legislation from the City Council to amend the New York City Administrative Code.

The Department’s report found that when used in conjunction with up-close, hands-on examinations, the use of unmanned aircraft systems could potentially have application for façade inspections, by providing additional information to the Qualified Exterior Wall Inspector. Specifically, drones could potentially be used for collecting significant amounts of visual data such as photographs, videos, and thermal imaging. Drone pilots might also be capable of capturing images of building angles that are more difficult to access using current methods of visual inspection, which is important for the inspection of larger buildings.

“I commend the Department of Buildings for exploring new technologies to make building inspections safer, cheaper, and more efficient,” said Council Member Carlina Rivera.

“Façade inspections should not be so costly that scaffolding stays up for decades and our historic landmarks are impossible to maintain. I look forward to working with DOB to modernize façade inspections and other building maintenance to make our city safer for all New Yorkers,” said Council Member Carlina Rivera.

“The consulting engineering community applauds DOB for its continual work in assessing ways to increase efficiencies, new technologies, and innovative approaches. Today is an important step towards the potential deployment of this new tool by professional engineers to increase public safety. We look forward to working with DOB to make sure drone technology is used appropriately and effectively,” said John Evers, President & CEO, American Council of Engineering Companies of New York (ACEC New York).

“Thank you for your diligent inquiry and report. We look forward to a time when judicious drone deployment is available to the city’s QEWIs to further our efforts to assure the safety of the city’s buildings,” said Paul Millman, PE, RA, Principal at SUPERSTRUCTURES Engineers + Architects.

“Adding drones to our inspection toolbelt will greatly enhance the thoroughness of the visual inspection and documentation process, particularly on high-rise structures, and permit precise monitoring of facade conditions over time to detect signs of deterioration and distress well before critical conditions develop. I believe that once drones become a routine part of the inspection process in NYC we will wonder how we ever got by without them,” said Brett Rieger, AIA, RAND Senior Architect and Drone Group Leader.


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