TV News Helicopters
March 26, 2010 6:55 AM   Subscribe

What is the approximate cost for television stations to have helicopters for their local newscasts?

I'm curious how much it costs for local tv stations to buy and maintain helicopters as well as hire pilots.
posted by josher71 to Grab Bag (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I was under the impression they were owned by different companies and the stations pay a fee for whatever services they want, like traffic reporting. More than once I've heard a "sky eye traffic report" give the wrong call letters.
posted by Katravax at 7:01 AM on March 26, 2010

The cost is typically measured per hour. To give you an indication, a police helicopter in Austin costs $325 per hour without personnel, $1,300 with personnel: these are running costs.

In the UK, a police helicopter costs around £500/$750 per hour in direct costs.

An alternate way of looking at it is $500,000 per year, i.e. ~$1,350 a day with personnel.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:05 AM on March 26, 2010

Speaking to Katravax, it is often the case that a single helicopter does duty for a series of tv and radio stations that are all run by the same people so mistakes can be made that way.
posted by mmascolino at 7:07 AM on March 26, 2010

Low cost piston engine helicopters like the Robinson R22/R44 series run at much lower per hour costs than the turbine powered (jet) Bell helicopters linked by MuffinMan, and so many radio stations use lightweight R22/R44 type machines for traffic reporting. Where the weight of a broadcast grade video camera (with lens turret and high ratio optical zoom), stabilization package, and spotlights are needed for television ENG, the larger helicopters may provide the additional payload capacity, and electrical power such packages have needed. However, newer cameras are reducing the quality issues that used to demand large turbine powered machines, and with costs becoming an issue for more and more TV broadcasters, I think you'll see more station turning to lightweight machines, rather than getting into still very costly sharing agreements with other stations.

Robinson estimates the hourly operation cost of an R44 machine, based on 500 flight hours per year, at $185.10. The price of a new R44 is about $420,000, and they are popular machines for direct and third party leasing by broadcast news operations.
posted by paulsc at 10:54 AM on March 26, 2010

Helicopters are horribly expensive to operate and maintain.

The others are correct in that there are per-hour costs calculated for operation, mostly because the maintenance schedules are determined by per-hour of runtime, and fuel consumption is also generally measured in gallons per hour. Fixed costs like insurance, pilot salaries, hangar fees, FAA inspections (in the US) are usually broken up over the operating costs per hour to get them a budgetary idea.

I'm surprised that the cost MuffinMan linked at $325 per hour was that low. A later sentence in the article indicated it was more like $1300 per hour - which is a lot more accurate with everything else that goes into operating that kind of aircraft.

It is for this reason that many stations contract out things like traffic watch to companies who operate fixed-wing aircraft; Cessna 152s, 172s and 182s are quite common. They are much cheaper to operate, they pay the pilots VERY little (those jobs hire at 300-500 hours total time, although they can be pickier these days since so many pilots are unemployed.) These aircraft cost much less to operate - $200-300 per hour (including pilot, insurance, consumables AND fixed costs) and require far less downtime. Downside: fixed wing can't hover, and requires better weather conditions than a lot of helos can fly in.

For traffic, a lot of stations are starting to tap the local highway camera feeds, which cuts out a lot of the aviation business on both fixed and rotary wing operations.
posted by Thistledown at 8:42 AM on March 28, 2010

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