Drones in the News: 6 Ways Major News Organizations are Pushing the Drone Industry Forward
BY Zacc Dukowitz5 December 2017
Although we sometimes gripe about the bad PR drones can get in the news, the truth is that major news organizations have contributed greatly to helping push the drone industry forward.
In this article we’ll look at the different ways that major news organizations like CNN and ABC News have helped to push the drone industry forward, including advancements on the regulatory front, changes in public perception, and the creation of sound best practices.
Without further ado, here are six ways that news organizations are helping to push the drone industry forward.
1. Flying Over People
CNN was the first company ever issued a 107.39 waiver to fly over people.
To get this waiver, CNN partnered with the FAA through the Pathfinder Program and performed extensive research and testing, not to mention exhaustive documentation regarding the specs of their proposed drone and operation.
Which is all to say that, in many ways, CNN literally created the process whereby companies can apply for, and receive, a waiver to fly over people.
And their hard work is paying off. In the last three months the FAA has issued six 107.39 waivers to five new companies (CNN received one of these—it was their third), increasing the total number of 107.39 waivers from 4 to 10 in a very small window of time. CNN certainly deserves a lot of the credit for paving the way for new, smaller companies like AeroVista Innovations to secure their own 107.39 waivers.
And the pace of the progress has been seriously impressive—in late October we wrote about how there were only three companies with 107.39 waivers. Now, just six weeks later, there are seven.
Regulators want to see that the technology is safe for activities like flights over people, but they can’t demonstrate it’s safe until it’s used at a vast scale. CNN helped provide testing for the FAA, and created a path forward.
-- Greg Agvent, CNN
2. Positive PR: Highlighting the Good Drones Can Do
News organizations know that public perception is important, and crucial in shaping future regulations for emerging industries, such as the drone industry.
By covering positive drone stories, especially following the disastrous 2017 hurricane season in which Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, and others ravaged many parts of the U.S.—not to mention the world—news organizations have helped to bring a positive spotlight onto the role drones can play in our lives.
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta called Hurricane Harvey a watershed moment for the drone industry. This is largely the case not just because drones helped people in Houston and surrounding areas impacted by the hurricane, but because the media reported on that help.
This video from ABC News highlights the ways drones helped first responders during Hurricane Harvey:
Here is another video from ABC News showing how a drone helped first responders locate and save a man trapped in his home during a flood following severe flooding caused by Hurricane Matthew in North Carolina last year.
3. Sharing New Perspectives—Literally
This one is subtle, but when you think about, simply using aerial footage shot by drones has changed the way we view the news (and the world!).
For a long time, news organizations could only use helicopters when they wanted to share aerial footage. This meant that aerial shorts weren’t as common, and were often of traffic or other controlled scenarios that had been planned out well in advance.
But the relative low cost and ease of using drones means that they can be used regularly, and that news organizations can cover stories they may not have even considered in the past. And this means that the ways news organizations are using drones is literally changing how we see the world.
Check out the ABC News video below about a volcano in Iceland. Can you imagine this story without the aerial shots?
4. Creating and Implementing Sound Best Practices
Waivers to fly over people are just one part of the much larger story about how news organizations are helping to create sound best practices for the use of drones in media, and aerial cinematography in general.
The manuals and supporting materials that CNN has created for their drone operations is seriously impressive. In his keynote at InterDrone, Greg Agvent of CNN stressed how hard they worked to create and document their processes for the use of drones, as well as underscoring the fact that they use drones as needed—that is, when an aerial shot is absolutely necessary—and not simply because they might provide a neat addition to a story.
We do a ton of reports. We do risk assessments, create ops manuals, training manuals, and help to create a firm foundation for operating in national airspace.
-- Greg Agvent, CNN, speaking in a keynote at InterDrone 2017
5. Covering—and Helping—During Disasters around the World
Hurricane Harvey may have thrust the usefulness of drones in disaster scenarios into the spotlight, but news organizations have been using drones in to cover—and help—following disasters for a while now.
After a natural disaster, drones can provide insight into the status of an area in real time, without risking the lives of personnel to reconnoiter the scene on foot.
Following a massive, devastating earthquake in Nepal, CNN used drones not only to cover the story but also to share information with the Nepalese authorities about which villages had been most severely impacted.
Since these villages were located in places that were rendered inaccessible due to a mudslide resulting from the earthquake, CNN’s information collected via drone was crucial in helping Nepalese authorities decide which areas to prioritize for disaster relief.
Last year, ABC News used drones to help provide information following a huge earthquake in Ecuador:
And of course, CNN reporting on Hurricane Harvey enabled by drones helped assess damage and locate survivors:
6. Acting as Ambassadors for the Drone Industry
In addition to highlighting the good that drones do in the world, news organizations act as ambassadors to government agencies and organizations throughout the world, both normalizing the use of drones and helping create the actual policies by which drones can be used in different countries.
News organizations are often the first to be granted special flight permissions by government entities, which is significant because it sets a precedent. By acting as a trusted, reputable, and responsible agent when it comes to drone flights, news organizations help create a possible path forward for other organizations and companies to be granted similar permissions.
A prime example is the FAA’s progress in issuing waivers to fly over people (#1 above). By creating a sound process, CNN literally paved the path forward so that the FAA could start issuing more (and more!) 107.39 waivers.
But that is just one example of how news organizations are acting as ambassadors for the drone industry. CNN has also been given special permission to fly in places that are otherwise off limits, such as during the Peal Harbor Anniversary, and in other restricted areas throughout the world.
The relationships and policies that news organizations have helped forge with various governments will only help as as we all work together to push the drone industry forward.
Hurrah for the progress we’ve already made, and here’s to seeing even more soon.