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News helicopters resume limited flights over major U.S. cities

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    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Newsgathering         Dec 4, 2001    

News helicopters resume limited flights over major U.S. cities

  • Many newsgathering and traffic watch helicopters returned to the sky after the Federal Aviation Administration created a waiver that allows pilots to apply for limited flights within restricted airspace.

The Federal Aviation Administration allowed newsgathering helicopter flights back into the air last week above many of the 30 cities where flights have been banned since the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.

The FAA created a waiver allowing pilots to apply for limited flights within the restricted airspace, said FAA spokesman Fraser Jones.

Helicopters used for gathering footage and traffic watch updates were grounded after the terrorist attacks. Helicopter flights returned to normal for some parts of the country in October, but the FAA ban remained in place for newsgathering choppers within “enhanced class B airspace,” a designation for the airspace surrounding the nation’s 30 largest cities.

“Following a discussion yesterday between officials of the FAA and the Office of Homeland Security, the FAA has formalized a procedure for authorizing aerial newsgathering operations inside enhanced class B airspace areas,” stated a message on the Helicopter Association International homepage, on Nov. 28.

The FAA used the industry Web page to help disseminate information about exemptions to the ban for newsgathering flights in restricted airspace.

“The FAA cautions that aerial newsgathering waiver requests will be reviewed by security personnel, and that personnel engaged in these reviews will be limited,” the HAI statement read.

For some who filed waivers in late October, it took more than two weeks to gain approval.

According to Jones, the waivers are reviewed by FAA agents and then passed on to security agencies.

The waiver asks for the names, social security or passport numbers and nationalities of aircraft crews. In addition, flight itineraries are requested, although the HAI states that “aerial news gathering operators may designate the ‘local area’ and may indicate that the dates of operation under the waiver will be ‘continuous.'”

“It’s not a complete return to normalcy — you still cannot hover or stay in one location for too long a time,” said Stephen Dickens, director of operations for Helicopters Inc., which operates flights for media entities in 45 cities. “It would be great to circle and hover a little bit, but just getting into the airspace has been a great achievement.”

Jones said that the hovering, circling and loitering performed by news helicopters necessitates the restrictions on flights in class B airspace.

“We hope to fully restore general aviation keeping with national security concerns and requirements,” Jones said. “It may be possible to work out a flight plan so they can fly from point to point and still keep the point of interest on the ground in view most of the time.”

GR

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© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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