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It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane — No, It’s a Drone!

Kathryn Farrell in Building Operations on August 3, 2023

New York City

New Drone Rules
Aug. 3, 2023

In late July, Mayor Eric Adams announced new rules regarding the operation of drones within city limits. According to a statement from the mayor’s office, part of the new rules will include a permitting process administered by the New York Police Department (NYPD) and guidelines for takeoff and landing.
“There's a rule called the New York City Avigation Law that's been in our way,” says Robert Krupp, P.E., a Project Engineer, certified drone pilot, and member of RAND Engineering & Architecture’s Drone Team, “It simply states that you can't take off or land a plane in New York City unless it's at a designated heliport or airport. The permitting process that the NYPD has rolled out essentially allows you to create a temporary takeoff and landing zone.”
That law has prevented buildings from taking advantage of the safety and cost benefits of using drones for maintenance inspections between Facade Inspection and Safety Program (FISP) cycles, a preventative measure that few buildings use.
“We have a couple of historic buildings that every so often do inspections in between cycles just to make sure everything's nice and clean and neat,” says Ira Meister, the president of Matthew Adam Properties. “But those are older buildings that know they need to stay ahead of the curve.” These inspections, while less intensive and therefore less expensive than FISP inspections, still require engineers and equipment rentals. Drone inspections, on the other hand, are faster, more accurate, and require fewer people on site.
“Drones are going to allow us to be able to see different portions of buildings that we really wouldn't have been able to see otherwise,” says Krupp. “We can get really high up on cupolas, for example, or in really ornate decorative locations.” Additionally, boards can more easily compare potential future issues, like small cracks, before they become catastrophic. Howard Zimmerman, an architect and the principal at Howard L. Zimmerman Architects & Engineers, has used drone footage to save boards from expensive repairs.
“We'll do a drone inspection for a client and document every crack on the facade of the building,” says Zimmerman. “And then two years later, we'll do a second drone inspection; it's the equivalent of laying 2 X-rays on top of each other. You could see if the bone crack has expanded. We do this digitally, and lay the third year drone inspection over the second year drone inspection, and we could actually see in the exact same GPS location if a crack has grown or stabilized. This gives us an opportunity to express to the client whether their facade is stable or deteriorating.”
And with these new regulations opening up drone inspections, boards may find taking steps to monitor building facades more doable. Meister believes many of his buildings will start looking into maintenance inspections. “We’ve been doing it in other places, using our drones,” he says. “They’re easy to use and very manageable. The drone pilot takes it up and down the building, over the roof, around the building, and that’s it. Then they give us all the footage. It really is pretty nifty.”

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