Five Good Questions: Edward Kostakis, Xizmo Media Productions and AeroSpect

Edward Kostakis, Co-Founder, Xizmo Media Productions/AeroSpect

Edward Kostakis is co-founder of two drone service companies, Xizmo Media Productions and AeroSpect. Both are at the forefront of New York City’s nascent drone services industry. Formerly, he served as a Marine Corps air intelligence officer, then as a senior pilot for drone manufacturer DJI. He also created a drone pilot program for Adelphi University.

Q: Why is façade inspection a big deal for NYC and drone services operators?

A: 16,000 buildings require face inspection in NYC and there’s not enough people to do this efficiently and effectively. Drone technology will greatly help the city by making it more affordable to get inspections done so we’re no longer seeing parking lots completely collapse.

We have a rule requiring a scaffolding drop for every 60 feet of façade. It costs a lot of time, a lot of money, and presents a hazard to people down on the sidewalk as things fall off the scaffoldings. 

Q: Until 2023, NYC banned drones save for at airports and certain parks due to an ‘avigation law’ from 1948. What happened with that?

A: We hired a law firm three years ago and we sued the city. [Readers can look up the case under Xizmo Media Productions vs. New York City.] We argued on the stance of First Amendment Rights. Not only for video purposes, but also journalistic purposes and to use the technology to help with the infrastructure in NYC.

But when this was presented before Judge Eric Vitaliano, he said, ‘This is up to the FAA.’ Vitaliano struck down the city’s motion to dismiss[…]Which brought them to the table and negotiating to establish a permitted process.

Q: How well do the new drone permits introduced in 2023 work? Has it led to increased demand?

A: Business has gone up 30-40% and it’s only been a few months—and many people are under the impression it’s still illegal. The cost [$150 per permit] is about average. I like that because it forces [drone users] to do things legitimately or the likelihood of getting another permit could become very problematic.

The permitting process can take up to 2 weeks [after the first application, which takes 4 weeks]. Because we’re dealing with architectural firms we [usually] have the leeway of time. But that doesn’t work that well in the media production side of things, so the city does need to fix that. 

Q: A 2021 study by New York’s Department of Buildings was pessimistic about saving costs using drones because they couldn’t satisfy requirements for ‘hands-on’ inspection. Are they right?

A: These are things within the next 3-4 years drones will be able to do themselves. Using sensors mounted on its front, the drone can actually park itself, or force itself onto the side of buildings and do an echo test or have a telescoping camera that comes out from the drone and bring that camera in to see the wall cavity.

Q: What are other challenges of operating in the hyper-urban environment of downtown Manhattan? 

A: Lack of GPS. GPS errors will tell a drone sometimes to be 5 feet to the right. You really have to rely on piloting experience to fight those situations and continue going. You can’t rely on just automated flight paths.

We use the most capable drones with the best sensors for their weight class. Could we put a bigger drone out in front of buildings to take 100 megapixels picture? Sure, but we don’t want to because they make a lot of noise, seem more menacing and it becomes a liability. But if we’re using things like a DJI Mavic 3, it’s much smaller and quieter and very safe. There are tons of people working behind it to make sure updates are safe.