- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 2, 2001

News helicopters and planes are still banned in Washington and other cities with major airports, but the Federal Aviation Administration has eased the restrictions in other areas.
The agency grounded the aircraft, which broadcasters use primarily to deliver live traffic reports, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. The restrictions were lifted in most areas late Friday, but the FAA kept them in place in cities near the nation's 30 largest airports.
The FAA also banned sightseeing planes, planes that pull banner advertisements and hot-air balloons.
"This is being done for national security," FAA spokesman William Shumann said yesterday. He declined to elaborate.
The television and radio stations that use helicopters and small planes continue to press the agency to lift the ban fully, saying the restriction hurts their ability to cover the news. Some news directors told the Associated Press last week they believe the FAA wants to keep the aircraft grounded to censor coverage of the military.
"We're not going to use them to see secret troop movements or to see fighter planes lining up. What we're going to use it for is to show the interstate backed up because that affects a lot of people," said Jim Turpin, news director for WAVY-TV Channel 10, the NBC affiliate in Norfolk.
Thirty-four percent of TV news operations either own helicopters or lease or hire them when needed, according to a survey last year by the Radio-Television News Directors Association, a trade group. Stations typically use them to cover traffic jams, car chases and natural disasters.
Broadcasters could have used helicopters last week to report on the tornado that struck the University of Maryland at College Park on Monday, said Barbara Cochran, the association's president.
"If the TV stations had been allowed to take a helicopter up, parents [watching at home] would have been able to see if their child's dorm had been hit," she said.
Mrs. Cochran wrote the FAA last week, urging it to lift the ban. She said she hopes to meet with the agency this week.
In Washington, Fox affiliate WTTG-TV Channel 5 owns a helicopter. Other stations use aircraft owned by Metro Networks/Shadow Broadcasting Services, a New York company that provides news and traffic reports to broadcasters across the country. It operates four planes in Washington.
Since the ban took effect, Metro Networks reporters have used cars and vans to report on clogged traffic. The company also relies on live video feeds from traffic cameras it has installed at busy highways and intersections, said Shane Coppola, the company's executive vice president.
None of Metro Networks' roughly 75 employees in the Washington area are expected to be laid off as a result of the aircraft restrictions, Mr. Coppola said. "Everyone here has work to do," he said.
Commuters are still getting timely traffic information because broadcasters use the traffic-camera video feeds, said Lon Anderson, a spokesman for AAA. "Clearly, they don't give the full picture, but at least we have something to refer to as we walk out the door in the morning," he said.
Listeners to WTOP-AM and FM have helped fill the gap left by the grounded Metro Networks traffic planes, according to Jim Farley, the all-news station's vice president of news and programming.
The station has a hot line for motorists to use to report traffic jams. Calls to the hot line have jumped dramatically since the station's hosts announced that the Metro Networks plane it uses was grounded.
"Our listeners have just stepped up incredibly," Mr. Farley said.

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