Brandon Tseng is better known as SpeedbirdHD, famous for his aviation photography and videography which has attracted more than 166,000 followers on Instagram and an audience of 55,000 on YouTube.
When he’s not pursuing this passion, Brandon works as an operations liaison at Los Angeles International Airport for the construction of a new 750,000 square-foot midfield satellite concourse (terminal), much needed for an airport (usually) bursting at the seams, handling over 88 million passengers every year.
Brandon’s initial career path didn’t lead him directly to the terminal doors. His parents were intent on him becoming a doctor, so off to medical school he went, later graduating. But this route didn’t spark excitement for Brandon.
As they had always done, the airport lights were shining bright for Brandon, beckoning him into a world where he felt belonging.
My love of aviation comes not only from the airplanes, but what they represent – travel and flight.”Brandon Tseng
What pulled Brandon towards this world in the first instance?
At the age of one, Brandon and his family moved from Taipei, Taiwan to Los Angeles, living close to the airport best known simply as LAX – eternally famous for the excitement, glitz and glamour that goes hand in hand with being the gateway to Hollywood.
The standout moment came when Brandon was 12 years old – stepping onboard a British Airways Boeing 747, bound for London Heathrow Airport.
“Walking into a huge airplane like that for the first time was incredible. It crystallised everything I thought I loved about aviation up to that moment.”Brandon Tseng
I could instantly relate to this. Flying across the Atlantic Ocean for the first time on a 747 to Florida at the age of 11 was a pivotal moment in my childhood. I knew right then that aviation was for me – my ticket to explore the world, and I specifically wanted to work for the airline we flew on – Virgin Atlantic – and I did.
I asked Brandon about his rise to Insta fame as SpeedbirdHD, and what it’s like working on such an exciting airport project.
Who is SpeedbirdHD and how was he born?
In 2009 I was watching the airplanes at LAX with my friend and now famous aviation blogger and vlogger, Sam Chui. I was already a keen photographer and videographer and Sam suggested I share my photos with other aviation enthusiasts.
In truth, what initially prompted me to post on YouTube had nothing to do with sharing with others. I was collecting so much footage that it was getting lost in a bottomless pit on my computer, so I decided to upload to YouTube as a way to store my content in a more searchable fashion.
I had no idea that people would find my work and like it, leading to the 220,000 followers I have today!
Why are you called SpeedbirdHD?
That one is simple. Speedbird is the callsign for British Airways, my favourite callsign.
What kind of photography and videography do you take?
Of course, airplanes are my subject, but what I love capturing most are airplanes in-flight rather than stationary. I feel this is when you get to see their true beauty. I often get asked when I am moving or stationary myself while capturing shots of the aircraft. For me it’s always when I’m standing still.
Your day job is in aviation too. What do you do?
Yes, it is. I get to do what I love everyday which I am incredibly grateful for. I have worked in operations at LAX airport since 2009. My first job involved driving around the vast airfield – don’t forget LAX has four parallel runways – checking for debris and ensuring the airfield was FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) compliant.
I then moved to the Airport Response Coordination Center (ARCC) where I was responsible for assigning airplanes to gates for the world’s third busiest airport. At the time the Tom Bradley International Terminal was being built and I was drafted in to work on the project – a real highlight of my professional career.
I am now working on my most exciting project to date, the construction of a new mid-field satellite concourse under construction right in the middle of the four runways.
Tell us more.
Although LAX is much quieter than usual right now, it is normally a bustling hive of activity 24/7 with 53 international airlines constantly coming and going. With limited space available to expand the airport outwards, existing space is being utilised, hence it was decided to construct the mid-field concourse, which will be accessible via a tunnel from the Tom Bradley International Airport. It will have 12 gates, potentially 15, for both single and twin-aisle aircraft.
This offers big operational benefits, reducing the chances of aircraft having to wait for a stand, or being sent to a remote stand where passengers then have to get a bus ride to the terminal. It will be a great addition for both passengers and airport operations.
The passenger experience within the concourse is going to be pretty cool – it will feel more like a luxury shopping mall experience, and will benefit from the latest technological enhancements.
What is your role?
I work for the airport as an operations liaison for the project, acting as a representative for the needs of the airport and its passengers, ensuring that the project team understands those requirements. I am also responsible for making sure the day to day running of the airport is not disrupted by the construction work.
For instance, to build the tunnel that connects the Tom Bradley International Terminal to the new mid-field concourse meant quite literally digging up three existing airport gates. It was the equivalent of open heart surgery to an airport! This had to be handled carefully to mitigate potential disruption from the three gates temporarily being out of action, and that was my responsibility.
It goes without saying that safety always comes first, and it’s my top priority to maintain that for both passengers and airport teams at all times.
What’s the best thing about your job?
Aside from getting to see airplanes every day, the best thing about my job is being part of a team who works round the clock to give passengers and airlines a smooth travel experience.
What’s the biggest thing you have learnt from the project so far?
Be open minded to other people’s views and opinions. Everybody has an idea and a vision. Listen to them and don’t let your own belief become a limit. If you put ideas together you can arrive at a better solution.
How has COVID affected you?
Human interaction is what I miss the most. I am an only child and always craved company. I think that’s one of the reasons I love being at the airport. You get to be part of life as it happens and watch people as they travel for a multitude of reasons – sometimes sad, but I love feeling the energy of people around me, and I love my team. I can’t wait to get back to that, and see the international airlines touching down on the tarmac, carrying passengers, not just cargo.
For the many budding photographers out there, what camera do you use and what one piece of advice would you give to an amateur like me?
I use a NIKON-D750 – it’s a good solid camera with a great lens – essential for capturing action shots.
My top piece of advice would be to look at the bigger picture. It’s too easy to focus on the subject you’re trying to capture but you need to look around it. What’s framing it?
Quick turnaround questions
Take-off or landing?
That’s difficult, but I think it has to be take-off.
LAX, it has to be!
Favourite place for a holiday?
I haven’t been there yet, but the Maldives – that is where I want to go!
Favourite aircraft of all-time?
One hundred percent, the Boeing 747 – it will forever be the Queen of the Skies.
What would you be if you weren’t doing this job?
An airline pilot. I am currently doing the next best thing and gaining my Private Pilot License.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I tend to act on impulse, so for me it would be not to always act on that impulse – take a step back, look at the whole picture, and then choose how to react.
Brandon, thank you for sharing your story and taking us into the life of SpeedbirdHD! It is always a pleasure to connect with like-minded aviation lovers, and I am sure your passion will resonate with many.