I can totally see smaller market TV stations using drones as an alternative to helicopters, leveling the playing field #60MinutesWhile my focus was on smaller television markets with limited resources, my interest has shifted a bit in light of the tragic events at Seattle ABC affiliate KOMO. Chopper pilot Gary Fitzner and photographer Bill Strothman were killed in a crash while leaving the facility where the station's helicopter was stored, mere yards from the city's iconic Space Needle.
— Shaun Fossett (@shaun_fossett) March 16, 2014
So I've been thinking: could drones be used as an economical tool for gathering news and make for a safer alternative? I envision these tiny, airborne devices being utilized by television stations to get aerial footage for breaking news, even for stations in larger markets who cannot (or will not) fork over millions of dollars to purchase or lease a chopper or pay for its expensive fuel. Plus, helicopters must be stored in specific places; it's not like a car that can be parked in the driveway after breaking news coverage is over.
With 5G bandwidth becoming common across America, drones could also be used anywhere near a 4G/5G tower, eliminating the need to tune into a signal on what can often be an unreliable microwave spectrum. This would also allow multiple drones to operate simultaneously within the same general area.
My vision of initial operation goes like this: a large fire has broken out in a residential area during a wildfire. Crews cannot get to the fire due to safety issues. A news crew drives as close to the fire as safely allowed. The drone is deployed. With someone trained to remotely operate the drone as a crew member guiding it along, the cellular spectrum can be used to transmit a live HD grade signal back to the station. The drone costs a fraction of a helicopter, so if it's damaged, it's no big deal, especially in situations where lives are in the balance. Plus, it's less intrusive than a helicopter, therefore, it can access more areas without jeopardizing safety.
The use of drones could also level the playing field in TV news, making exclusive claims to owning helicopters a thing of the past. As I stated previously, choppers use a lot of fuel. And it ain't cheap.
But we;re years away from this. Regulations must be put into place. I can imagine drones would be governed the same way aircraft is today.
So, will drones replace news helicopters? Not anytime soon. Just as the internet has not replaced TV news but has influenced it to change, drones will add another alternative and dimension to the tools television stations will have at their disposal to provide quality news coverage.