News Coalition begins UAS testing at Virginia test site

By Emily Aasand | June 17, 2015

A coalition of 15 news media companies have launched research testing of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for news gathering in partnership with Virginia Tech, one of the six U.S. Federal Aviation Administration designated UAS test sites.

The flights are part of a series of controlled real-life scenarios to simulate news events that the media can safely report on using UAS technology. The series of tests will be the first time news reporters and photographers are at the controls of the aircraft to test news gathering.

“The Associated Press and its media coalition partners are excited to harness this new technology to inform the world,” said Sandy MacIntyre, vice president and director of global video at AP. “This program will allow us to use these new tools safely and effectively while also benefiting from the many new angles of visual newsgathering. A great step forward in new storytelling.”

The news media coalition is comprised of the following 15 media companies: American Broadcasting Companies Inc.; Advance Publications Inc.; A. H. Belo Corp.; The Associated Press; Capitol Broadcasting Co.; The E.W. Scripps Co.; Fusion; Gannett Co. Inc.; Getty Images (US) Inc.; NBCUniversal; The New York Times Co.; Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.; Thomson Reuters (Markets) LLC; Univision; and The Washington Post. The coalition consulted closely with the National Press Photographers Association in developing realistic testing protocols for these research flights.

The coalition has been working since mid-2014 through the law firm of Holland & Knight LLP, to develop testing protocols with Virginia Tech.

“The research testing we are initiating will provide the news media coalition a safe and innovative way to gather and disseminate information and keep journalists out of harm’s way,” said Rose Mooney, executive director of the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership. “Virginia Tech sees this collaboration as a key to groundbreaking research to use UAS for the news and broadcasting industry on a routine basis.”

“The news media looks forward to helping the government create a legal framework that provides for the safe gathering of news by UAVs consistent with the media’s and the public’s First Amendment interest in journalism,” said Charles Tobin, partner at Holland & Knight law firm. “This testing will take us far toward reaching that goal.”

In August, the FAA granted Virginia Tech seven certificates of authorization for two-years. UAS models tested at the site include the Smart Road Flyer, an eSPAARO (electric small platform for autonomous aerial research operations), Aeryon Sky Ranger, MANTRA2, Sig Rascal, and two AVID EDF-8 micro UASs.


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