High Flying News by Keith Gosse

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Imagine being able to get a new perspective on our world by being able to get a birds-eye view of everyday scenes. Well that’s easier than ever now as small camera drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), have become more accessible and easier to operate.

As most of our readers are probably already aware, The Telegram has acquired a small camera drone in an effort to keep up with this evolving technology in the news gathering business.

These UAVs used to be more expensive and harder to come by, but are now smaller, cheaper and easier to use than ever. Anyone can go to their local hobby store and buy one for just a few hundred dollars or a few thousand dollars.

Some models simply carry a camera while others have first person view (FPV) systems.

The Telegram’s UAV operates on a line of sight basis meaning we have to keep the drone in sight at all times and we don’t have a live downlink so we don’t know what footage we have until we look at the video later.

First person view, on the other hand, provides a live view of what the drone-mounted camera sees, giving the operator a better idea of what he/she is recording.

FPV is more valuable since the batteries on these drones can only keep it powered for a certain amount of time before needing to be switched with a fresh one.

While anyone with a UAV can operate recreationally with few restrictions, commercial users such as The Telegram have to operate under guidelines issued by Transport Canada. Commercial use is defined as any use in which one or both parties receives a benefit of ANY kind.

This includes money, services or personal recognition (my words). Unfortunately the current guidelines were developed well before the emergence of this new drone technology. This means we have to operate under outdated rules until a new set specifically aimed at the more prolific smaller UAVs are instituted.

Transport Canada has come up with a new set of guidelines for the UAVs, but they still need to be reviewed and will not be implemented until late this year or early next year.

So at the moment, to operate our UAV, we have to apply each time for a special flight operations certificate in which we say what we want to use it for and demonstrate we can do it safely.

We are eventually working our way to a more open-ended permit which will allow us to deploy on short notice for breaking news stories. We will still have to follow certain guidelines and safety rules though. For this to happen we have to demonstrate we can operate our UAV safely and responsibly.

So far, I have used it on a limited basis in an effort to make sure I get enough experience at the controls. My first concern, and The Telegram’s, is safety. We have a safety checklist that is approved by Transport Canada and we have a list of criteria under which we will or will not deploy the UAV.

This criteria includes a wind and weather threshold, location specific safety checks and the safety of onlookers. Believe it or not, we also have to contact the St. John’s International Airport tower any time we deploy in controlled airspace.

With the airport actually inside city limits, that will be most of the time we fly the UAV.

We are also required, in most cases, to have a two person team: a pilot for the drone and an observer to monitor the surroundings for any problems.

You can see two of the videos HERE and HERE.

A third video is due on our website soon.

Now, many people have concerns about drones and their privacy being breached by spy-copters. Unfortunately, there are people who will take advantage of this technology for questionable reasons. It happens.

The Telegram follows accepted journalistic and legal practices when it comes to privacy. Our definition of privacy may be a little different than yours and I explained the difference in a previous blog.

You can read it HERE.

Our drone will be used to enhance our news coverage and to give our readers, of either the hard copy or our digital platform, an innovative view of our local news world. Believe me, our local competitors will probably have their own drones soon or are already planning to get one.

We decided to be the first with the news and to show our readers that even though we are 135 years old, we’re adapting and keeping up with the times.

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  • Ken O'Brien
    October 28, 2014 - 17:44

    Well done for the Telegram to use this technology to tell its stories in a better way. This opens up completely new points of view.