Fox News Soars With System Wide Drone Training Program
“Fox has a drone army that comprises nearly 90 fully trained drone pilots and more than 100 ‘visual observers’ who accompany the pilots on every shoot to help out and ensure safety. They are at work at 13 of Fox’s 16 news stations and at 11 Fox News Channel bureaus. The goal is eventually to have multiple crews at every location. A recent class photo from a drone flight school in Cumming, Ga can be seen.”
A great news company excels in the art of storytelling, and Fox News is no exception. They are excellent storytellers, and at utilizing technology to enhance the story. However, it took the foresight of a local Atlanta Fox station General Manager, and his team, connecting with one of the leading UAV equipment and training companies in the U.S. to showcase the technology. In the past, WAGA, Fox 5 Atlanta, ran a few not so polite stories about drones. However, during an investigation, management realized the results revealed the many benefits of drones.
WAGA GM, Bill Schneider, along with Doug Evans, and VP of Engineering and Operations Neil Mazur had a vision and were the prime movers in the birth of the now company-wide drone program.
“I see it as a way for some of our very creative and talented storytellers to add a perspective to stories that they haven’t had in the past,” says Schneider.
In an interview with TV News Check, Sharri Berg, COO, news and operations, Fox Television Stations out of NY, stated, “drones will soon become a standard tool of newsgathering — on the roster along with trucks, cameras, and streaming backpacks” and “While the drones are not as robust as helicopters, they give you the ability to be in more places at once with more flexibility and differentiation.”
The article goes on to say that Fox News has flown over 600 missions.
In August 2016, utilizing drones as a newsgathering tool took off when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) enacted formal rules on commercial drone use.
Commercial drones must weigh less than 55 pounds, fly up to a maximum of 400 feet in altitude (with some exclusions), must not exceed 100 miles per hour, and can only be operated during daytime and civil twilight, according to the FAA rules. Drone operators must also qualify for flying certificates under the new FAA Part 107 rules.
Wanting to jump at the new opportunity to get in on the drone action, the folks at WAGA landed on the doorsteps of Atlanta Hobby and UAV Experts, located in North Atlanta. The companies offer a robust flight training program and are considered “full circle suppliers”, meaning they supply factory direct equipment, fleet management, flight training, infrared training, and FAA test training. In the unmanned business since 1978, no other company offers all four of these specialties nor has any been in the unmanned business as long.
Fox takes safety very seriously, and all aspects of their program exceed what is required by the FAA.
As stated in the TV News Check article, the Fox training process begins with an online program facilitated by the UAV Experts and UAV Ground School, preparing pilots for the FAA’s Part 107 test. Once the candidates are FAA certified, they head into the UAV Expert’s Hands-On flight Training Course, a drone training program comprised of both classroom and field training. During the three day program, Fox News Students gain a full understanding of the various flight, software and hardware systems, as well as tips on filming, how to fly, and the safety rules.
The candidate must then acquire 15 hours of flight time and produce a video illustrating their capabilities. The final test is the “check ride” that is provided and judged by Mazur, Evans, and others.
“We are pretty tough on them,” Evans says. “They have got to pass that final check ride. Then we sign them off and they can begin operations after that.”
The Fox executives involved with drones anticipate that their use of drones will increase as the technology improves and the restrictions loosen.
“It’s really exceeded our expectations,” says Berg. “It’s not drones versus helicopters; it’s about looking for differentiation.”
Fox hopes to eventually have multiple crews on every scene and location.