The tragic death of Erica Tishman, an architect killed by debris falling form a dangerous building facade in Manhattan, has prompted calls for a change in the approach to drone usage by New York City Officials.

According to the current state of play, it is illegal to fly drones in most of the city but there is a call to change this – deploying drones as ‘tools not toys’ to speed up the building inspection process.  It is thought that making it easier to use UAVs to carry out building inspections would spot problems sooner, allowing faster remedial action and help to keep the New York residents safer.

With the Buildings Department reportedly working to meet the inspection needs of over 1300 building facade complaints, it is clear that this is not an isolated problem and the delays in inspection caused by traditional methods mean that this one death might not be the last.  Under the new scheme, a drone inspection would be carried out within 48 hours of a 311 complaint (a complaint made by a member of the public regarding a building facade).  With the City dealing with more than 9000 ‘sidewalk sheds’ per year at a cost of over $30 million, there would also be a potential financial benefit although the focus is clearly on the human safety aspect.

The deployment of drones in urban areas has always faced considerable opposition due to public concerns over safety and privacy. However, controlled and monitored deployment can have significant benefits both financially and in terms of safety.