Stations still spinning over helicopter ban

Oct 1, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Broadcasters last week said a federal ban that has grounded news helicopters nationwide since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington has unfairly targeted their industry-and thrown a major monkey wrench into their ability to cover the news.
“We’re frustrated in Phoenix,” said Bob Henry, news director for CBS affiliate KPHO-TV. “We have a very large market to cover, and the helicopter is a very important part of our daily news coverage.”
“We are really handcuffed,” added Mike Silva, helicopter pilot and meteorologist for NBC affiliate KCNC-TV in Denver. “Why are we acting like a police state?”
Broadcasters are particularly steamed because the ban, which originally applied to all sorts of aviation, was lifted for some aircraft last week, including crop dusters, which federal authorities had feared that terrorists might be planning to use to spread biological or chemical toxins.
“There is no logic; there is no reason,” said KCNC’s Mr. Silva of the ban on broadcasters, adding that it had foiled his station’s efforts to cover a variety of major local news stories in Denver, including shootouts, car chases, traffic accidents, a fire and a kidnapping.
“We are the bottom of the food chain,” Mr. Silva said.
Roger Bell, news director of CBS-owned KCBS-TV in Los Angeles, said his station was concerned that the ban could impede the ability of his station to cover, “heaven forbid,” a terrorist event in that city.
Alison Duquette, an Federal Aviation Administration, said the federal ban, imposed after consultation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, continues to apply to some other forms of nonnews aircraft, including blimps and planes used for towing banners and sightseeing.
She also said although the ban was intended to be temporary, she didn’t know when it would be lifted-and she couldn’t say why it was imposed in the first place.
“We just can’t go into the details of why,” she said.
At least some stations last week were complaining that the ban raised First Amendment concerns.
But at deadline, Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, said it was too early to speculate whether the industry would sue the government. Nonetheless, at deadline, RTNDA was expected to urge news directors to complain to the FAA, the Department of Transportation and Congress.