CNN Launches Dedicated Drone Unit CNN Air to gather news footage

Cable television news organization CNN just launched CNN Aerial Imagery and Reporting (CNN Air), its first dedicated drone unit.


Drone journalism seems to be a hot topic of Summer 2016.

A few days ago we talked about two drone journalism boot camps. Another recent drone journalism-related news sees Atlanta-based CNN announcing the launch of “CNN Aerial Imagery and Reporting (CNN AIR)”, a designated Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) unit.

CNN Air will employ two full-time unmanned aircraft systems operators “to fully integrate aerial imagery and reporting across all CNN networks and platforms, along with Turner Broadcasting and Time Warner entities,” the broadcaster announced on August 18th.

CNN Air will be using both tethered and free-flight multirotors, and small fixed-wing systems, to suit the reporting assignment: fixed-wings for long, sustained flight, and small quadcopters for maneuverability and ease of launch, said Greg Agvent, Senior Director of National Newsgathering Technology, CNN as reported on Drone360.

“For the most part, we are operating with ‘off the shelf’ equipment ― but broadcast, particularly live broadcast, has unique technical requirements ― we are working with several manufacturers to spec the perfect broadcast drone.”

The Instagram picture below shows Anderson Cooper, anchor of CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360°, with one of the drones used to provide coverage on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina:

CNN, an early technology adopter among news organizations, has previously formed in June 2014 a media-related research partnership with the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) and the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE), to study media use of drones.

This agreement was later expanded to include cooperative research with the FAA.

In March 2015 CNN was the first company to use a Federal Aviation Administration-approved drone for newsgathering.

In May 2015, CNN,BNSF Railway and aerial data company PrecisionHawk were announced to be the chosen companies to work with the FAA in a “Pathfinder” program to explore concepts for beyond visual line-of-sight and urban use of small unmanned aircraft.

CNN’s task was to research how visual line-of-sight operations could be used for newsgathering in urban areas.

Supported by contractors operating drones under FAA authorization, and led by Greg Agvent, CNN has used drones in the last 2 years to provide understanding and context, enhanced storytelling and production value, as shown in this video released by CNN for the launch of CNN Air:

Among the others, CNN has already used drones in its coverage of the flooding catastrophe in Louisiana; the water controversy in Flint, Mich.; both the Republican and Democratic presidential national conventions; the 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” civil rights march in Selma, Ala.; and the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

“CNN’s cutting-edge development of technology to enhance the way we tell stories is a part of our DNA”

stated Terence Burke, Senior Vice President of National News.

“We are proud to continue the tradition with CNN Air, and to establish a unit that will expand our technological capabilities for newsgathering.”

In June 2016 the FAA relaxed its restrictions on drones for commercial use which will make it easier for companies like CNN to employ them for use. As of August 29th, operators will be indeed able to fly small drones for commercial purposes in the U.S. under the FAA’s new Part 107 regulation; previously any such operation required an exemption from the agency.

Beyond visual line-of-sight operations and flights over people will still require waivers to the regulation, the agency has said.

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