Drones Take Flight In Westchester Business World

Expect to see more of these unmanned aircrafts in Westchester skies, as businesses reap their benefits.

It was only a few years ago that drones were nothing more than sexy future-tech seen only on evening-news footage from distant battlefields and in action-packed Hollywood thrillers. Today, you can pick one up at Kmart for $99.99. Naturally, unmanned aircraft have broken into the business world, too:  From stunning aerial photography to automated door-to-door delivery services, commercial-use drones have really taken off.

The residential real estate market has been an important market for the proliferation of drones in Westchester. “Before drone photography, real estate firms had to hire helicopters for their photographers to take aerial pictures of the luxury homes they were marketing,” says Joe Houlihan, managing partner of Houlihan & O’Malley Real Estate Services in Bronxville. “Drones not only are less expensive to fly than helicopters, they also take photos faster, from closer vantage points and without much neighborhood disruption.”

But real estate is not the only sector embracing drones. Amazon.com recently unveiled plans for a new drone-delivery system, Amazon Prime Air, which will provide customers with same-day delivery of their orders. Meanwhile, Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has announced similar plans, and Walmart has requested permission from US regulators to conduct tests. 

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“I’ve been getting a lot more calls recently to make drone-based promotional videos not only for real estate companies but also developers, sports facilities, golf courses, summer camps, and weddings,” says Vinny Garrison, who launched Flying Films NY, his Nanuet-based unmanned-aerial-vehicle company (UAV), in 2014. Garrison added that he’s also getting calls from local municipalities—like Clarkstown, which had him aerially video a fireworks display, and Tarrytown, which hired him to do aerial surveys of municipal lots under development.

But there has been some turbulence. In December 2015, the FAA mandated that drones used for commercial purposes may be flown only by individuals with a pilot’s license and that UAV companies obtain a special exemption from the FAA to operate them. And they mean it: In October, the FAA fined Chicago-based aerial-photography company SkyPan International $1.9 million for alleged unauthorized drone flights dating back to 2012.

Garrison, however, is steadfast in his resolve not to get a pilot’s license just so he can fly drones commercially. “Everything is pointing in the direction of the pilot’s license not being necessary in the future. They’ll eventually have a ground test instead, which I think is really smart,” he says.           

 What’s certain is that between advertising, promotional, marketing, and other commercial applications, drones are big business. One study by international consulting firm Frost & Sullivan predicts that the commercial drone market will nearly triple in size by the year 2020 and that the nonmilitary drone market as a whole could easily swell to upwards of $10 billion.

Now that’s sexy future-tech.

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