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Pilots under investigation for using helicopters to gather news

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    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Newsgathering         Nov 16, 2001    

Pilots under investigation for using helicopters to gather news

  • Federal Aviation Administration officials investigate four pilots who used their helicopters to film within restricted airspace.

Federal officials are investigating at least four helicopter pilots employed by television stations to determine if they violated Federal Aviation Administration regulations by using helicopters to film where newsgathering flights are currently restricted.

“We are investigating pilots in Miami, Dallas and Denver areas as to whether they were violating airspace restrictions,” said Hank Price, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman.

Two television stations in Miami and one in Dallas covered separate car chases on Oct. 7 to the dismay of competing stations, which pointed to FAA restrictions prohibiting newsgathering helicopters from flying above the nation’s 30 largest cities.

In another incident in Denver, Rich Westra flew his helicopter on Oct. 12 to a local hospital for KMGH-TV/Channel 7 to film postal workers who were taken there for treatment in the wake of an anthrax scare. He said he received permission to fly from air traffic control, but the FAA sent him a letter shortly after the event to let him know he was under investigation.

In all four instances, competing television stations that kept their helicopters on the ground called the agency to complain.

According to Price, it is FAA policy to investigate such complaints. The restrictions on newsgathering helicopters within Class B airspace were precipitated by national security agencies, he said.

The FAA grounded helicopters and other aircraft following the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington. Most types of general aviation flights are now allowed except around Washington, New York and Boston, but restrictions on “newsgathering and traffic-watch flights” remain.

“It is the newsgathering process that’s being contested,” Westra said. “We are basically grounded. We are out of business right now.”


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© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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