Q&A: Sinclair Drone Chief Jeff Rose
Discharging a fleet of mini-choppers
November 3, 2016
WASHINGTON—Sinclair was flight ready
when rules for commercial use of unmanned aerial systems went into effect in
late August. It had drone news teams in six of its 81 markets within weeks of
the long-awaited Federal Aviation Administration directive,
when the company laid out its plan to have 80 trained, FAA-certified UAS pilots
in 40 markets by the end of next year, including Ed Beran (l) and Dre Dabars (r) of KTUL ABC8 in Tulsa, Okla., pictured here.
The deployment was revealed on Capitol Hill
Sept. 27 at a science and technology fair, where Sinclair shared its concept
for drone-based newsgathering with lawmakers and regulators, using footage
of the rising river in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, (screenshot below) from two days before. In addition to Beran and Dabars and the Cedar Rapids team comprising Brian Emfinger and Barry Deer, Sinclair
had teams in Green Bay, Wis.; Columbus, Ohio; Little Rock, Ark.; Washington, D.C. and its home turf, Baltimore. (WRGB, CBS 6 in Albany, N.Y. has since launched a drone news team.)
had launched a public service campaign—“Know
Before You Fly”—emphasizing safety and letting people in 81
of their markets know that these things are coming. Drones have been an object
of controversy because of both careless
use and privacy
concerns, which the FAA had
to consider when crafting the rules, and which Sinclair will have to
TV Technology queried
Sinclair’s chief drone pilot, Jeff Rose, about the
broadcaster’s drone strategy as well as its approach to privacy. He
is joined here by Rebecca Hanson, Sinclair’s senior vice president of
strategy and policy.
How is this much video going to be incorporated into the news workflow on both
the individual and connected station level?
There’s no set mandate on incorporation. Once our photographers are
trained it is up to their newsroom to decide when to utilize drone footage to
enhance their newscasts. In many cases, drone footage will be used to
supplement stories by giving an overview of the scene.
On a multi-station level, whenever there is a
major news event such as a flood, that footage can be offered to all of our
stations and carried live. One of the benefits of our network of stations has
been our ability to send trained drone teams to stations who are not yet
equipped. This enables us to bring this technology to our markets nationwide,
even as our program grows.
TVT: What kind of
camera and resolution?
operate with a Zenmuse X5 with a micro four-thirds sensor 1920/1080, with
interchangeable lens capability and optical zoom lenses.
TVT:Are you shooting in 4K 60p with the Zenmuse?
Sometimes we shoot in 4K for productions shoots such as a news promotions. Normally,
we shoot in 1920x1080 for live streaming. We also record video onboard the
aircraft for downloading post-flight.
TVT: Will the
signal be IP-based?
currently use the cellphone network for transmission back to the station for
incorporation into our newscast.
TVT: Is Sinclair using any specific cell-bonding
Rose: We use common
newsgathering cellphone equipment called LiveU. It simply connects by HDMI to
the video output from the aircraft. It uses multiple cellphone paths
simultaneously and combines them back at the station for broadcast. This is all
Is Sinclair flying DJI’s exclusively, or some other type of drones as
Rose: At this time
Sinclair is flying DJI Inspire 1 Pro aircraft only. (Pictured right.)
TVT: What type of
privacy rules and parameters will Sinclair impose and abide by?
Hanson: Sinclair participated in and supports the
Best Practices for UAS Privacy,” published by NTIA, and all
of our pilots follow these best practices as part of their training. Since we
are training veteran local journalists from our stations, they also bring years
of experience with, and understanding of, the privacy law regimes that govern
Will Sinclair’s drones have easily visible station ID branding as
news choppers typically do?
Rose: The branding on our drones is too small to be easily visible while operating.
However, our drone pilots operate their aircraft within the line-of-sight and
are easily identifiable by the bright safety vests they wear.
TVT: How will
breaking news flights be coordinated in markets where manned rotor aircraft are
still being used to cover such events?
is part of our policy for pilots to remain clear of and yield the right of way
to manned aviation operations and activities. We also monitor helicopter radio
frequencies for flight information.
Will this drone fleet also be employed in the inspection of what must be
Sinclair’s extensive network of towers?
The only purpose of this fleet is training our local journalists to use this
technology for newsgathering.
How will the Sinclair team maneuver the drones in the D.C. area around such
Rose: As part of their training, our pilots learn
how to navigate flight restrictions and assess them prior to every flight. Our
UAS Program is already operating in the D.C. Metro area and covering news
events while following FAA guidelines concerning restricted airspace.
will Sinclair proceed if someone shoots one down one of their news
hope that would never happen. So far our viewers understand and value the
benefit of responsible drone use for news. As long as we are respecting current
privacy rules, no one should feel the need to shoot down one of our drones.
That would be the equivalent of grabbing and smashing one of our cameras, which
to my knowledge has never happened. If it does, we won’t be happy.
Does Sinclair have any waivers filed with the FAA, e.g., a
waiver to fly over people, such as CNN
has? Or is Sinclair waiting for the FAA’s own rules on
that, expected this winter?
Sinclair is studying the pathway toward a successful waiver for flights over
people. We do not want to wait for the
FAA’s proposal for flights over people.
Are there any other waivers in progress?
Rose: Sinclair has
not applied for a waiver for flights over people at this time.
Does the team have any drone footage available online we can share?
have sample footage of SBG UAS news video here: