Restricted airspace, unrestricted 3D models

By JJ Moran July 30, 2020 | Technology

Image caption: Drones can be great sources of data. What happens when they can’t fly? Vricon 3D model of Walt Disney World, Florida, USA.

J.J., deputy program director in Vricon’s Orlando office, is a licensed drone pilot. This is part 2 in a series about drones. Read part 1 here.

Drone pilots have a lot to consider prior to takeoff: Airspace, site access, weather, and crew safety are all important considerations. Airspace classifications differ significantly from where they start and end, some airspace is restricted, and there are also altitude restrictions to consider. Some of the most interesting restrictions are temporary flight restrictions issued by the Federal Aviation Administration.

These are meant to be temporary, restricting most aircraft from operating within a defined area. Some common examples of TFRs are restricted airspace around stadiums or air shows. During specific periods of time, those areas are restricted to all aircraft travel at specific altitudes and distances.

But what about uncommon TFRs? During the recent manned spaceflight in Florida, nearly half of central Florida was restricted days before the launch (including Vricon’s Orlando office). What was most interesting was that there were multilayered TFR restrictions in place—one for the rocket launch and another for Air Force One’s landing. 

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Screenshot from the B4UFLY iPhone app that shows Vricon’s Orlando office (black pin) during the initial SpaceX launch attempt on 27 May 2020.

A slightly less intuitive—and more controversial—TFR is the one that surrounds Walt Disney World. This “temporary” restriction has been in place since the September 11, 2001, attacks and is not likely to change soon. This affords Walt Disney World protections similar to the White House, by restricting aircraft within three miles or up to and including 3,000 feet above ground level. (This TFR was officially added to aeronautical charts in 2016.)

Walt Disney World’s TFR on the Orlando FAA VFR chart—courtesy of vfrmap.com

Denied areas present challenges for not only drone enthusiasts but also for mission planning, rehearsal, and execution. To Vricon, accuracy and precision aren’t luxuries; they’re necessities. Based on high-resolution satellite imagery, our 3D models encompass the entire world, including denied areas, like North Korea—or Walt Disney World.