CNN will now use unmanned aerial drones to help it gather news in a wide range of situations as part of the company's newly created CNN Aerial Imagery and Reporting (AIR) unit.
The news broadcasting company unveiled the CNN AIR efforts in an Aug. 18 announcement that also revealed that the company has hired two full-time drone operators to fly the devices.
"For the first time in the company's history, CNN will have a designated unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) unit … to fully integrate aerial imagery and reporting across all CNN networks and platforms, along with Turner Broadcasting and Time Warner entities," the company said in a statement.
CNN has been working with the Federal Aviation Administration since 2015 on research to safely use drones for newsgathering, according to the company. CNN has been working with the FAA as one of the first three industry "Pathfinders" in the use of drones by businesses across the nation. As part of that effort, CNN has been sharing data and research with the FAA to help create prospective rules for commercial UAS operations in the United States. In addition, CNN previously formed a media-related research partnership with the Georgia Tech Research Institute involving drones and newsgathering.
"CNN's cutting-edge development of technology to enhance the way we tell stories is a part of our DNA," Terence Burke, senior vice president of national news at CNN said in a statement. "We are proud to continue the tradition with CNN AIR, and to establish a unit that will expand our technological capabilities for newsgathering."
The news network has been working with drones in its news coverage, including for coverage of the recent flooding in Louisiana, the water crisis in Flint, Mich., and during the recent Democratic and Republican national conventions, according to CNN. The drones are adding deeper context and enhanced storytelling capabilities to the company's news reports, the network said.
They were also used recently in the network's coverage of the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., and the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
In June, the FAA finalized its long-awaited commercial drone rules that will allow businesses to use UAS devices weighing up to 55 pounds for aerial photography, agricultural work, construction surveying and other for-hire uses, according to an earlier eWEEK story. The FAA's new regulations, formally called the Part 107 Rule, will now allow businesses to use small UAS devices to expand their operations and develop new technologies while operating in the nation's airspace.
The new regulations, however, still don't address long-standing demands from companies, including Amazon and Walmart, which are eager to begin airborne package deliveries using drones to serve their online customers. The drone deliveries are seen by the companies as making package deliveries faster and cheaper.
The FAA's Pathfinder program, which involves CNN and two other companies, has been using drones for experimental long-range operations and other use cases.
In the last few years, while the FAA was working to create final operating rules for commercial drones, companies were able to apply for "exemptions" under FAA Section 333 rules that allowed them to perform work using drones, even as the rules were being written. Almost 2,000 such exemptions were approved by the FAA while the rules were being drafted, allowing businesses to begin operations with drones as the technology emerged.
The new FAA rules could generate more than $82 billion for the U.S. economy and create more than 100,000 new jobs over the next 10 years, according to industry estimates provided by the FAA.
The FAA had been working since 2012 to develop rules and procedures for the commercial use of drones. The regulations are needed to govern drone flights and keep them safely away from commercial and private aircraft traffic as well as pedestrians and other hazards on the ground.