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Cinematic Aerospace Conducts First Commercial Drone Flight Ever at JFK Airport

BY Zacc Dukowitz
4 July 2018

On April 11, 2018, Cinematic Aerospace conducted the first commercial UAS operation ever allowed at the John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The flight took place at the Trans World Airlines (TWA) Flight Center, in the heart of the JFK airport.

The purpose of the flight was to get footage of the TWA Hotel, which is being constructed in the TWA Flight Center, for an upcoming documentary on the construction of the hotel and the history of the vintage airport terminal there.

JFK Drone Flight-Cinematic Aerospace

MCR and MORSE Development have been working to build the hotel to align with the aesthetic of the Flight Center, which was designed by Eero Saarinen and first opened back in 1962. The drone flight at JFK captured aerial footage to document the construction of the new, retro-looking hotel.

Obtaining Permission to Fly a Drone at JFK

The Cinematic Aerospace team first began planning for this shoot back in January, and they were able to obtain permission to shoot in about four months.

To get permission to shoot at JFK, the Cinematic Aerospace team had to hold multiple meetings with FAA representatives, airport authorities, law enforcement, the documentary crews, JFK Air Traffic Control, JetBlue representatives, and other stakeholders.

The key focus of all these meetings was on safety—making sure the UAS flights could be performed at the airport without any risk to manned aircraft or anyone else. In the end, Class B airspace authorization was issued by the FAA in order for this flight to occur.

JFK Drone Flight

In addition, the Cinematic Aerospace team made multiple visits to the site prior to the actual flight to test the area for possible radio and other communication interference, and perform spot checks to anticipate any other possible issues that could arise during the shoot.

During these visits they toured the construction site, visited the Air Traffic Control Tower, and planned the shots they would get with Director Peter Rosen, the documentary director.

It was a pleasure to work with all the teams and agencies involved to make this historic UAS flight possible at the JFK airport.

– Christian Tucci, President of Cinematic Aerospace

Details about the JFK Flight

To conduct these drone flights at JFK, the surrounding airport environment did not have to shut down, since the approved flight area—although located in Class B airspace—was contained solely to the construction site of the new TWA hotel and the historic TWA Flight Center.


Five flights in total were conducted in the same day during the approved flight window, with Christian Tucci acting as the Pilot-in-Command, and Kyle Hurley acting as his Visual Observer (VO).

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.

– David Windmiller, Co-Founder of Cinematic Aerospace

All of the JFK flights were performed with a DJI Inspire 2, which flew untethered to the maximum allowed altitude of 200 feet in various flight patterns to get coverage of the TWA terminal building, where the new TWA hotel is being constructed.

All of the five flights were conducted with continuous visual line-of-sight of the drone while it was in the air, along with a flight crew operating from a stringent series of procedures and checklists.

Another drone flight is planned for 2019, once the TWA Hotel has been complete, so that additional footage can be gathered for the documentary.

We should note that Christian Tucci, the President of Cinematic Aerospace, is an old friend of ours, and has written for UAV Coach on how to step up your color correction game and how to keep your footage organized and accessible.

Kudos to you, Christian, and to the team at Cinematic Aerospace for making this historic flight happen!

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