After two recent façade-related deaths, NYc city officials are mulling the use of drones to inspect the safety of thousands of buildings.

The City Council’s Committee on Housing and Buildings held a hearing Monday on a bill that would require the Department of Buildings to study the feasibility of using unmanned aircraft to examine exterior walls. Under the legislation, the DOB would need to submit a report by June 30.

DOB Commissioner Melanie La Rocca testified that the agency supports the bill and is open to the idea of using technology to enhance safety. But she also stressed that she didn’t want to put façade inspectors out of a job.

“This department is keenly aware of the fact that there is certain value to having visual, hands-on inspections by humans who can feel and touch the material,” she said.

Committee chair Robert Cornegy Jr., who is the co-sponsor with Council member Ben Kallos, clarified that he is not advocating for the full replacement of human inspectors, saying he envisions professionals and drones working in tandem.

“I don’t believe there’s one or the other,” Cornegy said. “I think we can expedite, get a closer look in a shorter period of time.”

The study would also explore whether drones could help cut down on the use of scaffolding and sidewalk sheds throughout the city. Kallos noted that there are more than 9,000 active sheds in the city, which collectively span the distance between Central Park and the Canadian border. (According to DOB, the active sheds span nearly 2 million linear feet.)

In December, following the death of architect Erica Tishman, Brooklyn City Council member Justin Brannan indicated that, at the request Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, he would introduce drone inspection-related legislation, Gothamist reported at the time. Any legislation will need to change a 1948 law that effectively bans drone use in most of the city.


In June, we mentioned that more real estate agents were using drones for real estate marketing of homes for sale. The FAA is now saying that using drones for commercial use is illegal. Your thoughts?

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Updated 2019

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