When you hear about drones and airports together in the news, someone has usually stepped beyond the law and is in trouble. Not this time, however.
The Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is one of the world’s highest-capacity airports. In 2015, City of Atlanta decided to expand the airport and commissioned Atkins, a leading design and engineering firm, to arrange the demolition and rebuilding of the present-day North and South parking garage and passenger drop-off.
Undergoing construction on such a busy airport is a challenge: safety is always everyone’s number one priority (naturally), followed closely by the absolute minimisation of delays to air traffic.
Planning is key, and in this the most efficient and safe method is to operate with in-depth digital models, so that every stakeholder has access to the same, accurate information.
The quickest and safest way to capture the existing site conditions is to fly a drone over the area of interest and process the data to high definition maps and 3D point clouds. Usually, however, drones and airports simply do not mix.
Atkins faced a challenge. Getting permission to fly drones on an international airport is incredibly difficult. The numerous illegal drone flights close to airports and planes that have risen in frequency over the last four years are not only dangerous and irresponsible: they also make it harder for professionals to use drones for work.
This is when Atkins reached out to Autodesk and 3DR, who together through Autodesk’s UAV Lighthouse Program, have made clear the unique business value of commercial drones in construction.
Because the site was in the controlled airspace of an international airport, the 3DR team used the new FAA online portal to obtain the authorisation for the flight.
As part of the airspace authorisation process, 3DR and Atkins were able to demonstrate to the FAA that an operation in such a critical location between runways could be performed safely using Site Scan, 3DR’s autonomous aerial data capture platform.
After coordinating with the ATL air traffic control tower, the FAA granted airspace authorization enabling this aerial data capture on Atkins’ construction site. Part of the requirement for the authorisation was that the flight team was in radio contact with the ATL control tower at all times during the flight and performed all operations under the control tower’s authority.
On January 10th, 2017, the team legally and safely flew the Site Scan drone in the Class B airspace over the international airport area. This was the first such operation under the new Part 107 regulation.
The team performed a total of 7 flights, capturing over 700 nadir and oblique images, and covering an area of 40 acres. The pictures were then uploaded to the 3DR cloud where they are automatically processed into accurate 2D orthomosaics and 3D point clouds.
The models will be used by Atkins to plan the demolition process and organise the operations during construction so to minimise the negative effects on the airport’s daily activities. In addition, the 3D point clouds will be used to work on the preliminary design phase together with the architects.