Since the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) started allowing commercial drone operations, media organizations have moved quickly to get their own news-gathering drones in the skies. Recently, Sinclair Broadcast Group (Sinclair) (operator of 173 television stations across the U.S.) announced that it was going “all in” on its news-gathering drone fleet. Sinclair plans to have 80 trained and certified Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) pilot operators working in over 40 markets by the end of NEXT year. Currently, Sinclair has UAS teams in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Green Bay, Columbus, Little Rock, and Tulsa. One example of Sinclair’s use of its drones was its footage of the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids, Iowa which provided an aerial perspective of a newly constructed flood wall as the city braced for potential flooding.
Sinclair’s announcement of its plans for its UAS team comes soon after CNN’s launch of the CNN Aerial Imagery and Reporting (CNN Air) unit, which has two full-time drone operators dedicated to integrating aerial imaging across CNN’s networks.
The FAA’s drone regulations offer broadcasters a cost-effective means of gathering aerial footage, especially when compared to the cost of helicopter operations. Of course, broadcasters should keep in mind the FAA’s Part 107 regulation before investing in drones for this purpose. While the FAA does grant waivers for some drone operations, generally, before broadcasters (or any company for that matter) can allow their drones to take flight they should know the limitations (e.g. no flights above individuals not participating in the drone operation; flights only within visual line of sight; daylight only flights) and be sure that the individual operating the drone has a remote pilot certificate or pilot license in accordance with FAA regulations. So expect to see more aerial imaging on the news and more and more news-gathering drones hitting the skies.