Early Drone Adopter Sinclair Celebrates 10,000 Flights

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Since the launch of its drone program in August 2016, Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. has logged a total of 10,000 flights.

The U.S. telecommunications conglomerate says the milestone flight occurred on Jan. 30 as part of an assignment for a news report for NBC 15 (WPMI-TV) in Mobile, Ala. The drone was commanded by Robby Hughes from Sinclair’s ABC 3 (WEAR-TV) in Pensacola, Fla., with visual observer Jan Czernik stationed in Mobile.

Sinclair operates drones for 45 newsrooms across the U.S. It has a total of 108 federally certified remote pilots and 64 trained visual observers. The company also expands its drone program regularly; last year, 10 more stations adopted the technology.

In 2014, the company began working with the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership at Virginia Tech to develop safety protocols for newsgathering and to train its journalists how to fly drones in real-life scenarios. This program grew in 2015 to involve 16 media companies working with Virginia Tech, home to one of the federal drone test sites. By October 2016, after the Federal Aviation Administration’s final rules for small drones went into effect at the end of August, Sinclair reported that six of its news stations had their own drones.

“By establishing best practices across our stations, we ensure that drones are flown by those who have received top-notch training under operational protocols that prioritize a safety-first environment,” notes Jeff Rose, Sinclair’s chief pilot. “With stations frequently working together on these drone-centric stories, it’s critical that our 100-plus pilots are able to collaborate seamlessly. Our standards do more than enforce safety – they also help develop great teamwork.”

Importantly, the technology has allowed Sinclair to further enhance its existing news teams. Last year, Sinclair stations deployed drones to the Carolinas and Florida to give viewers a comprehensive look at the devastation caused by Hurricanes Florence and Michael. And at WRGB in Albany, N.Y., for example, a drone was used to help first responders find a car that had been swallowed by flood waters.

The use extends past breaking news as well, offering a bird’s-eye view of communities’ events, such as fireworks, parades and holiday light displays, says Sinclair.

“We continue to be an industry leader with our cutting-edge drone journalism. We’re proud of our drone journalists across the country, who provide our viewers with a unique visual perspective on significant local stories,” comments Scott Livingston, Sinclair’s senior vice president of news. “The possibilities of drone journalism are endless – whether it’s for local stories, special events or footage for our new channel SOAR, available on our streaming service STIRR, we continue to find interesting ways to deploy this technology to bring viewers an enhanced experience.”

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