NAB 2015

Patience Is Key To Successful Drone-ing

While waiting for the government to develop regulations for drone use by news outlets, NAB Show attendees are urged to adopt safety protocols and have proper insurance coverage so they will be prepared.

Despite broadcasters clamoring for drones, TV news operations need to first iron out details — including learning how to fly the things — to use the unmanned aircraft safely once the FAA grants approval, or otherwise risk killing the opportunity, an industry insider says.

“As an industry we could mess this up badly,” says Ron Futrell, media manager of ArrowData, a Las Vegas-based company that collects and distributes news using aerial platforms.

“We could be flying like crazy, crash and burn,” Futrell says. “It could be a bad reflection on the industry if it is not done carefully and properly.”

Speaking Monday at the NAB Show in Las Vegas, Futrell said he believes camera-carrying drones will be “the tool of TV news in the future,” but that, at the moment at least, the technology has gotten ahead of where they industry is at in being ready to use them.

The drones being tested for commercial use (Las Vegas is one of six test sites the FAA approved for commercial drone use) already are even equipped with features key to broadcasters — steady cameras that are able to pan and zoom, and transmitters that allow for the broadcast of live shots, he says.

“We have the technology to use these things, we just don’t have the rules and regulations yet,” he says.

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Not only are TV stations currently prohibited from using drones (the Federal Aviation Administration is currently reviewing regulations for the commercial use of unmanned aircraft), issues such as a lack of insurance coverage and training means broadcasters are not prepared to tackle the next phase of aerojournalism “when the FAA does flip that switch,” he says.

In turn, Futrell is urging broadcasters in the meantime to adopt safety protocols, such as committing to using two staffers — a pilot and a cameraman — to controlling a drone.

“I don’t want a camera operator to also be thinking about having to fly the bird,” he says. “Bad things can happen.”

Broadcasters also need to make sure they have proper insurance coverage before sending any kind of aircraft up, as there is no sure-fire way to avoid accidents, Futrell says. “It’s still flying. It’s still aircraft. Things will happen,” he says.

Futrell says he sees drones ultimately supplementing choppers, particularly in the country’s biggest markets, not replacing them.

But he also sees them as potentially “the great equalizer” among stations, particularly within markets, as the relatively low cost of drones means stations that can’t afford a chopper will have a new option for covering news from the sky.

“They are way cheaper than a chopper, and having one flying at 10,000 feet can give you nonstop, persistent coverage,” he says.

With the development of the technology moving so fast, Futrell says there is no way of knowing how drones will ultimately take shape — and whether discussion of their use for TV news will be drastically different by this time next year.

However, he says his company, as well as broadcasters, are getting as ready as they can for the day when the FAA says its OK for them to launch the remote-controlled aircraft.

In fact, ArrowData, he says, currently has equipped a small manned airplane, a Cessna 206, with the equipment a drone will eventually use — primarily HD cameras on the bottom of the aircraft – so that it can be quickly reconfigured for remote control once it becomes legal.

“We can quickly make the transition to unmanned when it becomes legal,” he says. “All you have to do is take the pilot out of there, and put the controls in.”

Read TVNewscheck’s other NAB Show journalism coverage here. Find our full convention coverage here.


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