CNN hopes to soar once more with the introduction of news-gathering drones

With CNN suffering following what’s been deemed the network’s least-watched year since 1996 , it’s only natural that the cable network would want to grab any new trick that could give it a ratings edge. No surprises then that the news organization has announced its latest passion: aerial drones.

The Time Warner-owned company has joined the small but slowly expanding group of media and entertainment companies given a green light by the US government to start testing unmanned aerial vehicles in its news-gathering and other productions.

It becomes the first major US television enterprise to clear tough hurdles imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration and gain permission to begin using so-called UAVs on a regular basis. Under an FAA deal known as a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, CNN will be allowed to begin experimenting with the camera-bearing devices while providing feedback to the federal agency that will help the Obama administration plan how to integrate drones into civilian airspace.

CNN’s senior vice-president, David Vigilante, said in a statement that the network aimed to “get beyond hobby-grade equipment and to establish what options are available and workable to produce high-quality video journalism using various types of UAVs and camera setups”. On its side, the FAA said it recognized that “unmanned aircraft offer news organizations significant opportunities.”

The network, which has been tinkering with its formula under new leadership – from extended coverage of a stranded Carnival cruise ship to the high-profile exit of Piers Morgan and entrance of personalities like Anthony Bourdain and Morgan Spurlock – joins a creeping rollout of the FAA’s move towards integration. The federal agency has been widely criticized for advancing at glacial speeds , raising fears that the US will fall behind other countries in exploiting this rapidly developing technology.

Last month, Amazon warned that it might be forced to take its delivery drone testing abroad unless the US authorities loosened its stringent controls. The retail giant has ambitions to launch a UAV delivery service capable of dropping packages on the doorstep within 30 minutes of an online order.

CNN’s foray into the world of airborne cameras already falls far behind some of its worldwide competitors – notably the BBC, which for months has been operating drones for filming through its Global Video Unit . The corporation runs an entire team of drone operators, including pilots who have trained for six months to acquire special licenses from the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority.

One frequent complaint directed at the FAA is that it requires operators of unmanned planes to negotiate excruciating paperwork before they begin testing the devices. Each individual drone requires its own federal certificate.

Last September, the US government signed up six movie companies to begin testing . But those permissions are limited to enclosed studios and are deemed by critics to be paltry compared to the vast pent-up demand in Hollywood to unleash the technology on modern film-making. © Guardian News and Media 2015