Helicopters Magazine

Features Procedures Safety & Training
On-Air Traffic Control

If you tuned in to the airborne traffic report on the drive to work today, chances are you listened to the Canadian Traffic Network (CTN) without even knowing it. The reason: CTN provides the piloted aircraft that broadcasters in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Hamilton and Montreal send their traffic reporters aloft in; both on radio and TV. Not only that, CTN’s helicopters play a major role in providing breaking news aerial footage for CanWest stations such as Toronto’s Global Television. Ever seen the sexy shot of the Global Robinson R44 over Toronto, the shot looking forward from the R44’s tail boom? That’s a CTN helicopter you’re actually seeing.


June 2, 2009
By James Careless

Topics

If you tuned in to the airborne traffic report on the drive to work today, chances are you listened to the Canadian Traffic Network (CTN) without even knowing it. The reason: CTN provides the piloted aircraft that broadcasters in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Hamilton and Montreal send their traffic reporters aloft in; both on radio and TV. Not only that, CTN’s helicopters play a major role in providing breaking news aerial footage for CanWest stations such as Toronto’s Global Television. Ever seen the sexy shot of the Global Robinson R44 over Toronto, the shot looking forward from the R44’s tail boom? That’s a CTN helicopter you’re actually seeing.

p20_Edmonton
The “Newscopter” version of the R44 is designed for TV and radio news. 


WHY CTN?
There’s a very good reason broadcasters such as CanWest and Corus Entertainment (radio) rely on CTN to provide their traffic helicopter services: money. “For radio and TV stations to fly their own helicopters and airplanes is a very costly proposition,” says Ivan Shulman, president of the Canadian Traffic Network (CTN). “Doing it themselves requires the purchase/lease of an aircraft, hiring pilots, arranging for maintenance, and everything else that goes with flying an aircraft. Since these people are broadcasters, becoming aircraft operators doesn’t make sense. That’s where CTN comes in: What we do is provide all of these services to the broadcasters as a package, letting them stick to broadcasting.”

So why would CTN – a wholly-owned affiliate of the Global Traffic Network (GTN), which has similar companies in Australia and the United Kingdom – offer to foot the bill for broadcasters? Again, the answer is money: “We sell the live 10-second commercials that you hear embedded in the traffic report,” Shulman says. “We provide the pilots and helicopters in exchange for commercials during the traffic reports. Then we put this air time together nationally, and sell it to advertisers on a network basis. Not only does this give them national coverage, but thanks to the number of stations we do in each market, we can deliver 30 per cent of Toronto to them.”

Advertisment

The result is a win-win for broadcasters and CTN alike. The broadcasters can send their own producer aloft to manage the onboard cameras, and add an “on-air talent” person to appear on the helicopter’s cockpit camera/microphone. But that’s all they have to do: CTN handles the rest in exchange for sellable airtime.

p20_Airborne  
With the exception of Vancouver, all of CTN’s helicopters are flown by Mountain View Helicopters of Calgary.  
p20_cockpit-view  
All of Canada’s major cities rely on CTN Traffic copters to keep them informed about the state of the roads.


 

THE STRUCTURE
Although it owns the helicopters and aircraft that provide traffic (and news) flights to its clients, CTN does not fly them. Instead, it purchases these aircraft, then leases them back to third-party companies that do the work.

With the exception of Vancouver, all of CTN’s helicopters are flown by Mountain View Helicopters of Calgary. “We started flying for CTN in our hometown in 2006,” says Paul Bergeron, Mountain View’s president and chief pilot. “We then expanded to Edmonton, then Toronto and Hamilton. We’re now providing coverage in Winnipeg as well.”

“We started out with different vendors in different cities,” explains Shulman. “Then we realized that it made sense to have just one vendor who knows our helicopters inside out. That’s why we work with Paul in all of our cities, with the exception of Vancouver. When Paul took over the other cities, we already had an excellent vendor in Kecoa Helicopters and saw no reason to change them out.”

THE AIRCRAFT: THE ROBINSON R44
Over the years, a number of helicopters have flown traffic duties in Canada. However, when it comes to Mountain View’s CTN fleet, “we are using all Robinson R44s,” says Bergeron. “Specifically, we are using the ‘Newscopter’ version of the R44, which is designed for TV and radio news. A camera is mounted under the nose in a weather-protected gimbal housing. A second camera is mounted on the tail boom looking forward. Inside, there are two cameras mounted – one covers the front seat, the other covers the back. All cameras are managed by the producer, who controls everything from the workstation. This workstation can be fitted in the front passenger seat, or in the back.” Depending on a station’s budget, the producer can double as traffic reporter, or a separate person can do the job.

Despite its relatively small size, the R44 Newscopter has more than enough room for TV and radio broadcasting aloft. This is due to the tiny TV cameras used inside, and the relatively small producer workstation equipped with a few TV monitors, audio/video switching equipment, and remote camera controls for controlling the external cameras. “The R44 ENG platform is honestly the most reliable, dependable aircraft for the job, and it has the best safety record,” Shulman says. “It doesn’t burn as much fuel as most turbines, and it is economical to operate,” Bergeron adds. “All told, the R44 is an ideal platform for traffic. The only time we can’t fly, temperature wise, is when it goes below -25 Celsius. The helicopter can handle it, but the camera gimbal starts to freeze up.”

THE JOB
The job of the traffic helicopter is, by flying standards, a predictable one. “On weekdays, we take off at 6 a.m. and fly until 8:45 a.m.,” says Paul Bergeron. “Then we get back up at 3-3:30 to cover the evening rush hours. It’s a long shift, but a fairly easy one; you’re just flying pad to pad. That’s why we like to let our flight school graduates work it, to help them build up flight hours.”

In general, traffic helicopters fly in VFR conditions with a minimum 1,500-foot ceiling, keeping a close aerial eye on major highways and intersections. In doing so, “we have to deal with minimum clearances,” Bergeron says. “For instance, you have to stay 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle at all times. We also can’t venture into certain airspace due to airport traffic, and we have to stay clear of police helicopters.” And safety comes first in the traffic copter industry. “If Paul says the flight is ‘no go’ due to weather, then there’s no discussion,” says Ivan Shulman. “It’s ‘no go’.”

This said, the fact that Global and other TV broadcasters rely on their traffic copters for news footage can keep CTN pilots busy. “In fact, the 24-hour nature of the job is our biggest challenge,” Shulman tells Helicopters magazine. “We need to keep a pilot on call for that news story that breaks at 2 a.m., when our client calls up and asks for a copter.” He adds that aerial video is a critically important tool for covering fires, accidents and other news stories where ground access is blocked. As well, aerial video often provides a “big picture” view of the story that ground-based cameras can’t deliver.

CANADA’S EYE IN THE SKY
Today, CTN’s helicopters and aircraft provide traffic coverage for about 7.6 million Canadians nationwide. Put another way, all of Canada’s major cities rely on CTN traffic copters to keep them informed about the state of the roads during the daily commute.

The next time you’re caught in traffic and you tune in to your local radio traffic report, give a thought to whom you are really listening to. Chances are it’s the Canadian Traffic Network, no matter what the station.


Print this page

Related



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*