New safety rules ordered by the Federal Aviation Administration since the outbreak of war in Iraq have limited the use of ENG helicopters for TV reports, significantly affecting their ability to cover breaking news stories.
Several New York City TV station news directors told The New York Daily News newspaper that under new guidelines imposed after the war with Iraq broke out on Wednesday, ENG pilots must now file flight plans before going up. If news breaks elsewhere once they are airborne, the helicopters won't be able to cover it without special permission and stations will have to rely on camera crews on the ground.
"Ultimately, we really don't know the impact," WNBC-TV news director Barbara Johnson told the newspaper. "We're following the new rules and we have to follow a flight plan every time we go."
The new FAA restrictions are said to be part of an overall safety crackdown in the metropolitan area that went into effect after President Bush's ultimatum to Saddam Hussein last week.
"Reacting to breaking news from the air will be impacted," said WABC-TV news director Kenny Plotnik. "We'll still be able to do traffic, that won't change. But our ability to respond quickly from the air will."
Station managers worked under similar restrictions after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and things didn't get back to normal until months later.
The Daily News said that there have been some informal discussions within local newsrooms and among helicopter operators about seeking a waiver from the FAA for news flights, though so far there's no concrete proposal.
"We are discussing a lot of different things internally about ways to keep our helicopters covering the news," WNBC-TV's Johnson said. "We will cover the news," she added, "whether we have the helicopter or not."
For more information visit www.faa.gov.