Drones and airports don’t generally mix in news headlines – federal regulations require operators to get permission to fly within 5 miles of an airport. But as commercial drones become more and more critical, even airports need drone services. On April 11th, 2018, “the first commercial UAS (unmanned aircraft system, more commonly known as a drone) flight at John F. Kennedy International Airport took place,” reports Cinematic Aerospace, the Long Island-based drone company that performed the mission. “The UAS was flown at the heart of JFK, the TWA Flight Center, to film for an upcoming documentary on the construction of the new TWA Hotel and the history of the vintage airport terminal.”
The flights were the result of months of planning. The company says that they had multiple meetings and systems tests with airport managers and authority, the FAA, air traffic control, risk management teams, JetBlue, the documentary production company and law enforcement.
Cinematic Aerospace described the mission:
UAS Pilot-in-Command Christian Tucci and Visual Observer Kyle Hurley performed five flights in the span of the approved flight window. A DJI Inspire 2 climbed to a maximum altitude of 200 feet while maneuvering in various arcs over the historic TWA terminal building, designed by world-renowned architect Eero Saarinen in 1962. All flights were conducted with continuous visual line-of-sight to the UAS, and a flight crew operating from a stringent series of procedures and checklists. The Inspire 2 leveraged for this operation was operated without a tether, and permitted to freely perform its mission, within the approved flight area at JFK.
“Drones have been permitted for use in Class B controlled airspace in the United States a few very limited times before, but never untethered at an airport like JFK within the busy New York/New Jersey Terminal Area. It was an absolute pleasure working with all the relevant agencies to make this flight a reality, something we weren’t sure initially would happen this soon in the UAS industry,” says David Windmiller, co-founder of Cinematic Aerospace.
“The end result of all this time and effort speaks for itself. The footage the team was able to capture is truly the first time anyone has been able to view this beautiful and historic site from a perspective too low and slow for manned flight, and too high and free for a crane camera or scaffold,” says the team.
Filming with the UAS is planned to take place again, in 2019, upon the completion of the TWA Hotel.