Friday, March 27, 2015

News Helicopters, Crashes and Costs Vex Television Executives! Camera Drones are the Answer!

 courtesy of AZ Republic 
Phoenix, AZ--It was in July of 2007 when cops were chasing a fleeing pickup truck through the streets of Phoenix.  Also in pursuit were two TV news choppers that were covering this breaking story.
Soon the story of the day changed dramatically and tragically as the two news helicopters somehow collided in midair.  Two veteran pilots and gifted photojournalists that I knew personnaly were killed. 
The financial and personal damages of that event were beyond catastrophic and heartbreaking.   
Since 1960, there were 91 deaths and scores of serious injuries directly related to News helicopters alone. 
Another TV news pilot/reporter I once knew was Karen Key.  She was a young and very attractive lady that gained quite a following in Phoenix.  One day she was arrested by Phoenix police for DUI.  Quickly her news director unceremoniously sent her packing.  Some of her fans thought she deserved better treatment.
Key quickly was hired by another TV news organization in Denver.  In December of 1982 Key was flying to the scene of a light plane crash in Larkspur when the unthinkable happened.  Key and her mechanic were killed in a crash.  The local medical examiner revealed that Key was impaired by alcohol.
Today technology has delivered to us the camera drone.  You can hardly see a film or commercial anymore that was not partially filmed by a camera drone. They add a whole new depth and view of everything.
There are some 7,000 helicopters operating throughout the world.  Highly trained men and women pilot them however when they crash lives and property are lost.
As for the Multi-rotor camera drones there are nearly two million of them out there.  They are in the hands of unregulated civilians including teenagers. To date there has not been a single fatality or serious injury involving a multi-rotor camera drone. That’s despite all the news stories suggesting they could be dangerous.
News organizations worldwide have been decimated financially as their readers and views have chosen Internet providers for their news content. 
Helicopters cost between $1,500 and $2,000 an hour to operate and are the single largest newsroom cost.   The liability issues are yet another factor.
A professional grade, multi-rotor drone with a sophisticated 4K camera and livestreaming capability will cost between $9,000 and $15,000.  There are no fuel costs because rechargeable batteries power them. 
They can be operated with a single pilot doubling as the photographer or with a second person operating the camera with a second controller. 
There is a learning curve for operating the drones and cameras beyond what those selling these things would suggest however it’s not that difficult to safely master.
When drones collide it’s always just another day but for the cost of repairs.  Nobody dies or is crippled.  That’s not to say something tragic could never happen. That’s already been proven to be unlikely.
The FAA has taken on regulation of drones with unprecedented prior restraint tactics.  They have never done that before as they have always created conventional aircraft regulations in the blood of these killed or injured.
Worldwide news directors and editors have no choice here.  Either they embrace the drone technology or lose.  Drones are safe, effective and inexpensive.  The quality of drone video is no less than stunning. 
At this time the drone is not suited to replace every helicopter use in news.  They are not suitable for all but the end or a few glimpses of car chases. They move slower but they can get so much closer to newsworthy events than helicopters.
As for me, the news directors need to know I want to be a drone journalist.  I’d add this to my many years freelancing as an investigative TV news producer.  Whoever pays me can have my services.
The licensing issue right now is in the form of an FAA waiver certificate and operating under their conditions.  Within two to three years there will be some formal licensing at least for drones weighing more than four and a half pounds.
The first wave of drone journalists will be needed to teach those later joining the ranks.
Here is a link to the News helicopter accidents within the USA. 
I shot the story below with zero assistance from anyone.  I used my prosumer video gear on the ground and a $1,500 Phantom 2 drone with a GoPro camera.  I edited this on a small Macbook Pro with Final Cut-X software.


AmericaBeautiful said...

This was really good, Paul You are getting better & better with camera-drone control.

Anonymous said...

As a kid growing up in Chicago I recall listening to" Flying Officer Leonard Baldy" on the radio. He not only was one of the first helicopter traffic cops, but also first to use a radar gun to detect traffic speed. He became such a household name, that listeners where shocked when they heard about him dying in a fiery helicopter crash.

uncle_fweddy said...

Check this out, Paul.