Meet Keith Covington, one of the thou sands of pilots throughout the country employed in a news-gathering - capacity. Growing up in a military family, Covington was exposed to aviation at a young age by his father, an Air Force pilot. Keith followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the Air Force, eventually becoming a flight medical technician aboard various cargo and transport aircraft. But that was not to be his ultimate career path. “While at an air show, I had the opportunity to go on my first helicopter ride with the Army in their UH-60. It was the most awesome flight I had ever been on and I was sold on rotorcraft from then on,” says Keith.
Keith’s day starts early every weekday—at least every day that the weather is flyable. Of course, down here in Florida that is pretty often! Weekdays see a 0600 departure from the Showalter ramp at Orlando Executive Airport (KORL) for Covington and one of his backseat cameramen to start the daily traffic checks. They fly a predetermined path around the city in order to spot and report on road conditions. “The busy roads of Orlando are subject to heavy traffic overflow; accidents; law enforcement activity; all sorts of natural disasters, such as sinkholes and brush fires; and, of course, the ever-present construction,” reports Keith. Covington and his backseater stay busy reporting back to the station on trouble spots while also keeping eyes and ears peeled for other developing news stories. Most of us have been saved by a traffic report now and again, and it’s people like Keith doing the work to keep us out of the gridlock.
The public service provided by Covington and the thousands of other By Sandy Showalter, Showalter Flying Service Eyes in the Sky professional pilots flying in this capacity goes well beyond traffic reporting and capturing creative camera angles of major local events. “We have provided location and hazard information to EMS helicopters inbound to the scenes we are covering that are serious enough to require their assistance. We relay communications to air traffic control and to other aircraft in the area when EMS is on the ground and their radio transmissions are hindered,” explains Keith. This is a vivid example of the unique service that helicopters are able to provide to the public in both life-saving and information-gathering capacities.
Covington goes on to explain how news-gathering aircraft can assist law enforcement, as well. “We routinely assist in searches for lost children and adults, accident victims that may have been ejected from vehicles, and even boats, boaters, and aircraft that are missing. Furthermore, we are often tasked with helping to locate suspected criminals. Sometimes, we are even able to alert law enforcement to crimes in progress that we witness from our perch.” Law enforcement agencies often employ their own aircraft to assist in their efforts, but they can’t cover all of the airspace over their jurisdictions, and this is where newsgathering pilots like Keith can and do step in to help fill the gaps.
with many general aviation-related jobs, the satisfaction of being a traffic and news-gathering pilot manifests itself in many ways. Covington gets satisfaction from helping make our morning commute smoother, helping out a law enforcement agency, or playing a roll in getting an accident victim help.