Drone Operators Share Lessons Learned

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Nearly half of U.S. TV stations now own UAVs.

U.S. TV broadcasters have been flying drones with FAA permission since August 2016. By the end of 2017, 45 percent of U.S. TV stations already owned drones, and another 9 percent were planning to buy them, according to RTNDA Executive Director Dan Shelley, citing his association’s most recent research data. “Only 17 percent said that they were not involved in drones and had no plans to become involved,” he said.

By February 2019, Sinclair Broadcast Group (SBG) had logged its 10,000th TV newsgathering drone flight. The company currently has 108 FAA Part 107 certified drone pilots and 64 trained visual observers, and provides content for 45 Sinclair newsrooms nationwide.

RRead More: Fox News Flight Team Soars With Drone Training Program

The Fox News Flight Team is similarly impressive. A joint venture between Fox News and Fox Television Stations (local), the Fox News Flight Team has more than 80 FAA-certified pilots flying drones today. Working with visual observers who operate the drones’ onboard video cameras—and keep the pilots informed of potential hazards—these drones provide content to 13 Fox News bureaus and 16 owned-and-operated Fox TV stations.

Both SBG and Fox have been flying drones since the FAA approved their usage by broadcasters in 2016. ABC News has been flying them since 2015 (with FAA permission) and has about 60 drones serving the network and its station group across the U.S. with just over 100 FAA-certified pilots. ABC’s “Good Morning America” (GMA) has been a drone pioneer during this time period—flying drones over volcanoes (see “Drone Action Heats Up,” April 2015), into vast caves and up-close-and-personal with humpback whales out at sea.

With about three years’ experience under their belts, these broadcasters have learned many lessons about getting the most from drones. Here’s what they told us.


GMA’s extensive use of drones—especially for live shots—has taught the network how vital teamwork is in shooting great images from these platforms.

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“Even though camera drones are popular due to their technical abilities, we have seen firsthand that it’s the combination between the technician as the pilot and the creative, continuously evaluating camera operator that actually create these cutting-edge images; not the actual drone itself,” said Maria Stefanopoulos, GMA’s senior manager of operations. “So if there’s one thing we’ve learned and confirmed in the field, it is this: No matter how easy to use or autonomous these machines have become, one thing they can never be is as creative as the hands that are flying them; especially when they work together to get the best shots.”


Drones use batteries, and batteries have limited operating times before needing to be recharged. This is why GMA plans drone missions to minimize non-shooting flight times, so that it has maximum battery life available when shooting its video. Continue reading about the lessons learned by one drone operator.

Source: TV Technology


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