Monday, October 19, 2015

The future of journalism may be looking up

For media outlets, sometimes getting the scoop on the competition means presenting a particular story from a bird’s-eye perspective.

With that in mind, not even the sky’s the limit anymore for an area company that believes drone technology represents the future for journalism.

Earlier this month, representatives from Soaring Sky — an FAA-approved and insured company started by Daniel Barres in December 2013 — attended the Excellence in Journalism 2015 conference in Orlando to share their expertise of “dronealism” with some of the heaviest hitters in the industry.

While staffers from such giant media outlets such as CNBC, Fox and CNN listened in, Soaring Sky officials touted the journalistic benefits of drone technology, including rapid deployment time, a cost reduction of up to 80 percent and the fact that drones can reach areas helicopters and news teams cannot.

“We noticed that a lot of photographers and journalists are taking on multiple roles these days — basically one person doing what used to be five jobs,” said Soaring Sky Managing Partner Ryan Cowell, whose business in downtown Fort Myers employs around a dozen people. “They’re shooting their own stuff, they’re writing their own stuff, they’re doing the whole story by themselves, so we really think drones will be the next big thing in journalism. They’re a great way to take your journalistic career to the next level.”

Cowell said the ability to take cameras to the next level and into the sky offers journalists the chance to tell stories from a fresh new perspective.

“It’s really a whole different way of telling a story, and it just adds so much more to anything you’re covering,” he said. “With all the downsizing going on in the industry, it’s also a great way to cut down on costs.”

Locally, Cowell said Soaring Sky has already partnered with WINK News on some live shots.

“Drones are limited at 400 feet by the FAA, and we’re commercially approved to no higher than 200 feet,” he explained. “And you don’t really want to go any higher than that.”

Soaring Sky owner Daniel Barres, who is expecting a child with his wife, Sarah, in a couple of months, said he decided to start his new venture after using drone technology in his other business, a land-development and holdings company.

“We needed to survey some of the properties we owned and I love technology, so we started playing with drones and realized the opportunity to integrate the technology into other areas,” he said.

From producing TV commercials to minimizing risk to builders and developers who need to inspect hazardous areas in job sites, Barres said his company sits on the cutting-edge of what he expects to become commonplace technology in the near future.

“Four or five years from now, we’ll have drone highways similar to the vehicle highways we have now,” he said. “There will be the cars, then the drones, then the small planes and then the big planes. NASA and the FAA have already begun implementing the structure for that time frame.”

A Tampa native who grew up in Wisconsin before moving to Southwest Florida 16 years ago, Barres said he expects widespread drone use in everything from emergency-response situations to package deliveries to security surveillance. For that reason, he said educating the public about the new technology marked one of his top goals.

“Ryan is teaching a class in drone technology at Oasis High School in Cape Coral, and we’ve also teamed up with the STEM programs in 50 high schools in Collier and Lee Counties to offer a drone-building competition,” he said.

On the public front, Cowell said Soaring Sky also offers drone-education classes to individuals at the cost of $299 per person.

“We have a training academy for enthusiasts and people who want to learn how to fly drones,” said Cowell, who moved from California to take his job with Soaring Sky. “You can buy a drone online, but it doesn’t come with any personal interaction or education. They give you a quick-start guide that’s three or four pages long, and then you go out to fly it and lose control.”

To cut down on that risk, Cowell said Soaring Sky’s training academies represented a solution.

“The classes are held on a sign-up basis, and when we get to a group of about 30 we schedule a full day of both classroom and outside training,” he said, adding that Soaring Sky typically holds two training academies a month. “It’s a really fun experience that gives people the chance to become educated on drone technology, and also be entertained at the same time.”

For more information, call 239-333-2447 or see

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Drones Face New Regulatory Push • U.S. aims to issue final registration rules before Christmas, an unusually fast timeline

The Wall Street Journal
By Jack Nicas
Oct. 18, 2015 7:42 p.m. ET

U.S. regulators plan to require recreational drone owners to register their devices, an ambitious bid to rein in reckless users that faces a tight timeline and a thicket of legal and practical questions.

The Transportation Department plans to announce Monday that it wants to soon require registration for all unmanned aircraft “except for toys and those with minimal safety risk,” according to a draft news release reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

The department plans to create a task force of more than two dozen government and industry representatives to recommend the specifics of a registration policy, including which drones should be included, how users will register and whether the rules will apply to drones already sold, according to people familiar with the plans. The draft news release says the department wants to “create a culture of accountability” for drone operators.

Several people said the government aims to issue final registration rules before Christmas, an exceptionally fast timeline for aviation regulations. Typical aviation rulemakings take years.

The Transportation Department said it planned to make a drone-related announcement Monday but declined further comment.

Regulators and lawmakers have struggled to keep up with the proliferation of drones as new technology has made them smaller, cheaper and easier to fly, increasing concern that the devices pose a threat to people in the air and on the ground. Industry executives estimate hundreds of thousands of drones have been sold in the U.S.

Registration would be one of regulators’ most ambitious steps to crack down on unsafe flights and enforce existing rules, including that drones can’t be flown near airports or beyond the sight of an operator.

Defining which drones would require registration is expected to be a key issue for the task force, several committee members said. Commercial drones are to be regulated by separate rules expected to be completed next year.

Regulators are expected to require registration for the most popular recreational drones—four-rotor copters called Phantoms made by China’s SZ DJI Technology Co. that sell for roughly $1,000—and similar models. Members said regulators might be willing to exclude smaller devices, such as the 2-ounce, $100 MiniDrones sold by French manufacturer Parrot SA.

Several drone-industry executives and former government officials expressed skepticism that regulators would be able to meet the year-end goal. One person familiar with the government’s plans said the agency intends to declare the rule an emergency, allowing regulators to short-circuit a process that normally requires monthslong reviews and public-comment periods.

Completing an aviation rule in three months would be “unprecedented,” said Jim Williams, who retired in June as the top drone official at the Federal Aviation Administration and is now a consultant for the law firm Dentons. “It would be the most amazing feat of governance I’ve seen in my 33 years in the federal government.”

People associated with the industry raised a host of other logistical questions: Will drone sellers be required to collect customer information? How will the policy account for homemade drones? Can the FAA simplify and streamline a registration process that for manned aircraft typically takes about three months?

The expedited timeline worries many, including those who support registration to help educate users about airspace rules.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Gretchen West, an adviser at law firm Hogan Lovells LLP. But the government’s timeline “makes me nervous what the outcome will be.”

Others noted that the commercial-drone rules have been in the works since 2005. “After 10 years of rule making, we suddenly have this scramble to do something within a month, which is terribly short under any circumstances,” said Brendan Schulman, DJI’s head of policy.

Mr. Williams, the former FAA official, and others also questioned how regulators plan to deal with a 2012 law that generally prohibits the FAA from regulating recreational drones. FAA officials have cited that law as the reason they don’t plan extensive regulations for recreational drones, similar to those for commercial devices.

“This is a serious open question,” said task-force member Greg McNeal, a Pepperdine University law professor and co-founder of AirMap, an airspace-information app for drone users.

The person familiar with the government’s plans said that federal lawyers are expected to argue that drones are legally aircraft, and thus the FAA can require them to be registered under other laws.

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Hernando, Florida, man becomes county's first commercial drone pilot

Jay Rowden has been certified by the Federal Aviation Administration as a commercial drone pilot. His wife, seen here flying a drone with him, is Hernando County Commissioner Diane Rowden.

SPRING HILL --   A Hernando County man has become the county’s first commercial drone pilot.

Jay Rowden is a pilot who flew helicopters for the Army during the Korea and Vietnam wars. Now when he gets behind the controls of an aircraft, it’s to fly his unmanned aerial vehicle.

"I started flying when I was 13 years old," he said. "I couldn't even reach the rudder pedals on the airplane. They had to put a pillow behind me."

Drones are becoming more and more popular these days, especially since they can shoot video from high above the ground.

And now flying drones is no longer just a hobby for Rowden – it’s actually his job. Rowden has been certified by the Federal Aviation Administration as a commercial drone pilot. He says he’s the only one in Hernando County.

His wife, County Commissioner Diane Rowden, thinks his position is pretty cool.

"There are probably about 2,000 nationwide that have their 333 exemption and in Florida it is less than 100," she said.

Rowden is already putting his skills to work by documenting road work, utility projects and more.

"You get a whole different perspective than you do from the ground," he said.

The Rowdens have set up a website to promote Hernando County and they posted some of their drone videos.

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