Sinclair expanding drone program to 45 stations in 2017

Sinclair is currently using the DJI Inspire 1 drone (pictured). Image: DFSB DE/Flickr

Sinclair Broadcast Group intends to add camera drones to the news-gathering arsenals of another 35 of its stations in 2017.

Jeff Rose, who serves as unmanned aircraft system chief pilot for Sinclair, revealed the expansion plans during TVNewsCheck’s NewsTech Forum conference.

“Viewers love drones,” Rose said, according to TVNewsCheck. He added that the technology works well for covering stories in sparsely populated, large geographical areas. In particular, he noted how drones helped a Sinclair station more effectively cover a story about an Oklahoma town that was abandoned due to safety issues related to lead mining.

With the addition of 35 more stations to the its drone program, Sinclair will soon have 45 stations total capable of covering news using unmanned drones. Sinclair is currently using Inspire 1 drones by DJI but will soon begin equipping stations with the Inspire 2.

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The new numbers from Sinclair on its drone commitment expand a bit on estimates the company provided back in September. At that time, Sinclair had launched drone teams in WJLA in Washington, D.C., WBFF in Baltimore, Maryland, WLUK in Green Bay, Wisconsin, WSYX in Columbus, Ohio, KATV in Little Rock, Arkansas and KTUL in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The company said it planned to have drone teams in 40 markets by the end of 2017.

“Our drone program is off to a great start, with safety being the top priority,” said Rose in a statement (PDF). “Our policy is to have two operators for each aircraft; one to fly the drone and one to focus solely on the photography. We also meet with local law enforcement as part of our training and before we begin operations. We think establishing coordination protocols at the outset with police, fire and other first responders is critical for the safety of our communities as we incorporate the use of this new technology.”