Not All Little Rock Stations Agree on Drone Use for News

By Kevin Eck 

drone_AP_304Arkansas Business reports about the emerging use of drones in the Little Rock market.

Local drone pilot Tim Trieschmann told AB he owns three remote helicopters and uses them to shoot video for NBC affiliate KARK, CBS affiliate KTHV, and FOX affiliate KLRT. Trieschmann said he sees it as a cheaper alternative to using a helicopter.

In our TVNewser Show on April 29th, we will be discussing the increasing use of drones in journalism.

Austin Kellerman, news director for KARK-KLRT, said he agreed with Trieschmann. “sometimes the quality of video and perspective isn’t all that great. It can be almost distracting; depending on the setup, the camera might shake and the video would not necessarily be that clean.”

ABC affiliate KATV told AB it uses a drone owned by a station photographer to shoot stories. But not all stations agree on using the unmanned vehicles for news purposes.

“We’re not utilizing drones,” said Michael Caplan, general manager of KTHV.

Trieschmann’s work for that station has been for promotional videos only, not for news coverage.

Caplan said one reason the station isn’t using Trieschmann or other drone operators for breaking news is because of uncertain regulation surrounding the tech.

Congress has given the Federal Aviation Administration a deadline of 2015 to come up with a plan for regulating personal unmanned aircraft. In the past, the FAA has treated personal drones as if they were manned aircraft, resulting in some photographers being hit with lawsuits and fines.

To avoid this, aerial photographers follow self-imposed guidelines.

For example, Trieschmann said, he never flies his craft near airports, doesn’t shoot events where huge crowds are present and keeps his drones within 150 yards of himself.

For most shoots, Trieschmann said, he seeks permission to film before flying there.

“If I’m flying, for instance, over the River Market, or a populated area, we would talk to the tourism board,” he said.

“Same with the state Capitol. I’ve flown the state Capitol twice, for two different companies, and both times I’ve had permission from the state Capitol police and the people involved.”

“I’ve always said to stay below 400 feet,” he said. “That way you’re not going to fly into anything commercially flying overhead.”

He said photographers try to keep their aircraft within eyesight — typically within 150 yards.

“If you can see your helicopter with your own eyes, never fly farther than that,” he said. “If you do, if you lose it … you wouldn’t be able to get it back.”

He also avoids subjects that involve large crowds of people: There are liability issues.

“You’re putting your helicopter up in the air without the written permission of every single person involved,” he said. “There’s a risk, even with a real news chopper. You’re putting people at risk to some degree.”

Genty, at KATV, wasn’t too concerned about pending regulation. He said drone shoots are “definitely a wave of the future,” and noted that his photographer always seeks permission before a shoot.

Kellerman said that KARK’s use of freelancers like Trieschmann helps the station avoid potentially losing an investment in its own drones — which can cost up to $100,000 or more — in case regulations are too strict.

Still, Trieschmann is guessing that the regulations won’t affect his business too much.

Most of the other photographers in his field think that the FAA will break down remote aircraft into several categories based on size, he said.

“Your 5-year-old son flying his remote control helicopter in his backyard is not the business of the FAA,” Trieschmann said.

“This is tentative stuff, nobody knows for sure, but the feeling in the industry is that small-scale RC in the 5-pound to 10-pound size class, with a small camera, is not going to be regulated as long as they stay within eyesight and don’t fly in public areas without permission.”