Did newscopters skirt FAA ENG ban?

 - May 27, 2008, 7:17 AM

FAA enforcers are pondering whether to press charges in the wake of a November 7 incident in which some Dallas-area TV stations apparently bent (but, they maintain, did not break) the new rules against newscopter operation in enhanced Class B (ECB) airspace during a police chase of a runaway truck.

FAA investigators are trying to determine if the pilots of four Dallas news helos broke the rules. Accordingly, they have begun a review of tapes of conversations between those pilots and local ATC. As in a previous event reported in the New York area, some news organizations have attempted to circumvent the restrictions by filing a flight plan and operating under Part 135 rules, which allow only point-to-point flights along with a ban on hovering.

Four Dallas-area TV stations broadcast aerial footage of the chase, but three opted not to broadcast live the footage they apparently shot while simply passing by the chase while flying point-to-point within the ECB and within view of the runaway truck. “We flew point-to-point. We didn’t hover,” KTVT-TV news director Linda Levy was quoted as saying. KTVT aired its tape of the chase after it had been brought back to the station. KXAS-TV claimed it was in compliance with FAA policy.

Maria Barrs, v-p/news director for KDFW-TV, issued a written statement: “Fox 4 News relies upon the services of an experienced helicopter contractor, which advises us that it operates at all times in full compliance with all FAA regulations and instructions of [ATC].”

WFAA-TV said it followed FAA rules and launched a helicopter to fly to Ennis, which is outside ECB airspace. Because the driver of the truck was going south on I-45 at one point, WFAA hoped to pick up the chase outside the 30-nm radius. It did not.

The FAA said an ATC tape shows a pilot being informed he was violating ECB airspace. The matter has been handed over to the local FSDO for possible enforcement action. WABC-TV’s New York-area helicopter news team is facing similar enforcement action.