Will TV news helicopters be replaced by drones?

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PHILADELPHIA Will the TV news helicopter make way for the drone camera?

TV's eyes in the sky have been around for decades and are often indispensible for covering news scenes.

On the horizon (figuratively, if not literally) are drones that do the same thing.

One is available now for $400,000, and Mike Cavender, executive director of the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA), says it -- or something like it -- will probably catch on.

"The ability to put a camera, if you will, high above a news event or a situation for which you want coverage, at minimal expense, when you compare it to a live, staffed helicopter, I think that's a potentially tremendous advantage for a news station," Cavendar told CBS Station KYW.

Vincent Duffy, chairman of the RTDNA, wrote in a blog post earlier this week that drones are the latest "must-have toys" for a newsroom, while recognizing that certain ethical issues remain regarding their use:

"There's a part of me that finds this kind of creepy and fraught with 'Big Brother is Watching' issues. While we might trust public radio journalists and academics . . . [could] websites that cover celebrities resist the urge to fly drones over celebrity weddings, outdoor red carpets, and beaches where starlets might be caught topless?

"Right now, these 'drones' can't really be used like that unless the Federal Aviation Administration steps in to create new rules for journalistic uses of drones. Current rules require that UAS (or unmanned aircraft systems) have to be within the operator's line of sight, have to stay under 400 feet, have to be flown during the day, and have to be away from airports. . . .

"[The] FAA is looking into how it can regulate the coming 'Drone Age' safely. They expect to have new rules by 2015. The ethical issues for using drones for journalism will probably be up in the air much after that."

Cavender said the prospect of a news drone is so imminent that an RTDNA event later this year will discuss the technology, reports KYW correspondent John Ostapkovich.

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