18:27 PM

Sharing a bird's eye view of the Master Plan

(April 2, 2015) - There’s the 2.6 million square-foot rental car center. The brand new 1.4-mile automated people mover. The Main Terminal expansion. Major bridge demolition. Expansive road work.Taxiway J in April by helicopter

With so much large-scale construction happening on Tampa International Airport’s $943 million Master Plan project, there’s really only one way to capture it all:

From the sky.

So the Airport – and its contractors – have turned to a group of local experts to help document the project for generations to come.

Aerial Innovations, a Tampa-based aerial photography company of nearly three decades, is in charge of shooting all the photos for the Airport’s historic expansion project. A woman owned and operated company, Aerial is one of numerous woman-and minority-owned businesses working on the expansion.

“We’re proud to be on the team,” said Colette Eddy, president and founder. “This is a massive and high profile job that will change the face of Tampa International.”

Eddy said aerial photography provides and invaluable vantage point.

“I believe it’s the perfect vehicle for showing the scale and the scope of the project,” she said. “You don’t get that same impact when you’re on the ground because you’re overwhelmed.”

She added that aerial photography helps give context and meaning to big construction projects.

“Your structures are huge and you’re adding more big things,” she said. “How do you even compute that when you’re down there?”

Once a month, Aerial photographer Julie Palermo hops aboard a Robinson R-44 helicopter at Peter O. Knight Airport on Davis Islands to take photos of Tampa International Airport, one of many assignments she handles on a given flight. Working closely with the pilot, Palermo snaps several photos in rapid succession of each of about a dozen points of interest, capturing the latest in construction from a view few people get to see. Palermo said timing is of the utmost importance when working at TPA given all the airplane traffic. It’s important not to fly during rush hours and to be aware of the surroundings.

Aerial Innovations has been flying in the skies since 1987, and Eddy and Palermo are veterans in the field.

Together with her staff of nine, her company has done thousands of projects across the state, taking on everything from major Florida Department of Transportation roadwork, to photos of the Sunshine Skyway, to gatherings and special events.

Taking the photos involves close coordination between the photographer and the chartered pilot.

“You’re either a good pilot or a good photographer, but you’re not both,” Eddy said.

Eddy said she loves the field and how it is ever-changing with new challenges. Weather is enemy No.1.

Intense fog, rain, clouds and bad light all have the potential to derail any plans for the day. Conditions for photographing can go from good to bad in an instant, requiring Eddy to always have a watchful eye on the weather.

Sometimes, whole weeks are lost because of poor conditions. On a recent Thursday, she bemoaned the string of days with poor conditions as she looked out the window, hoping the clouds would break. They did not.

“It’s so backed up,” she said. “It’s been challenging this week. Like, stupid challenging.”

While the weather presents challenges, she said it’s just a reality of the business. One that is often quite rewarding.

Take a shoot she was on last March.

She was out on an assignment taking photographs of Interstate-95 construction on the east coast of Florida and the pilot made a turn, giving her a bird’s eye view of Cape Canaveral. At just that moment off in the distance, she saw a rocket shooting into the sky.

“That was a new one for me,” she said. “It was awesome.”

Eddy got into the business more than 35 years ago. She branched off on her own in 1987 and started her own business, and has built it into a leader of quality aerial and ground photography in the region. In addition to her staff of photographers, she also works with two drone operators. She sees drones as potentially playing a major role in the profession in the future, but not just yet.

“It’s the hot-button topic right now,” she said.