It's not legal to fly your drone anywhere near an airport — at least not without a special waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration.
For the first time under the FAA's commercial drone rules, the agency granted permission to operate a drone at an airport. Seven flights were conducted by Berkeley-based 3D Robotics on Jan. 10 at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, the busiest airport in the world.
Restrictions on flying drones near airports have to do with safety. Drones can not only collide with planes, but seeing one can also distract a pilot.
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The 3D Robotics drone was given permission to collect data on two, four-story parking structures at the airport that a construction firm was hired to demolish.
"The only other way to capture data at this level would be with a full size aircraft," said Tristan Randall from Autodesk, the software company that helped gather the information. The data will be used to help the construction firm create a work plan.
At airports, even the slightest interruption can set off a chain of delays for airlines and passengers across the country. With drones, the team was able to collect data to plan the demolition of the two parking structures in only a few hours, a task that would have taken a small team days.
The permit required three spotters to be watching the drone during its flight and to coordinate closely with air traffic control. The FAA only started approving applications for waivers to fly drones near busy airports on Dec. 5 of last year.