Drone Pilot Facing $182,000 In Fines


The FAA is proposing a total of $182,000 in fines to an unlicensed drone pilot who was warned three times to stop making illegal flights around Philadelphia. After a warning letter was sent in October of 2019, the FAA contacted him twice more in November of 2019 to explain the ways in which he was violating fundamental rules governing drone flights. The pilot ignored those generous offers of what the agency called “counselling and education” and by last August it had had enough. It tallied up 26 violations of Part 107 regulations ranging from flying without a special use authorization for the airspace being used to flying at night, in poor visibility and too close to buildings.

Investigators didn’t have to go any further than YouTube to build their case. The pilot posted numerous in-flight videos, even including screen shots of the ground control station that displays altitude, the drone’s distance from the pilot, its heading and its position. The videos showed the drone flying over downtown Philadelphia with cars and people below. The drone pilot can appeal the fines to the Department of Transportation’s or National Transportation Safety Board’s administrative law judges.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. All the FAA has to do is surf youtube to find these clowns. Glad to see they are going after this guy.

  2. YouTube’s been full of videos for years where these “drone cowboys” revel in documenting their derring-do flights thousands of feet in the air, well out of visual contact with the drone, and many above clouds. I used to post replies to some of them, warning these idiots that what they’re so proud of doing was illegal, and sooner or later, they’d face consequences. I don’t bother anymore; it just falls on deaf ears. But I’m glad to see some enforcement action. I hope it makes an impression on some of these clowns.

  3. All one needs to do is visit some of the prolific drone-related YouTube channels to know that the FAA is cracking down on regulatory non-compliance by drone operators. Nearly every channel I have viewed now has a post related to a call they received from the FAA. The FAA is now saying that simply posting a video on YouTube, which in turn monetizes that video, makes that operator a “commercial” pilot. Therefore, that pilot must also posses a part 107 pilot certificate.

    It is remarkable, in my mind, that the FAA successfully tracked down these unlicensed operators. One can only imagine that a warrant may have been utilized in obtaining the YouTube publishers true identity and cell phone number. A feat that even astounded these non-compliant operators when they all unanimously queried, “How did the FAA even get my name and cell number!???”

    This article covers one of the more extreme cases where the pilot was violating regulations with impunity, after the FAA had already attempted to make their authority known through multiple compliance actions. As egregious as this case is, I predict there will be others in the future.

    • For my dji, if you are flying in a zone that requires approval, you need to enter your phone number in the app, recieve a text, then enter the provided number to confirm its you, all before you can take off. All the faa needs is the time, date, and approx location and they have your phone number right then.

  4. Unfortunately, drone fliers deliberately ignoring public information against flying out of sight and anywhere near airports seems to fall on deaf ears until the FAA calls, writes or send notice of the infraction(s). Once warned by the FAA, future ignorance to abide by regulations all drone operators are alerted to can result in enforcement action such as this case. Greed in showing off and collecting money from videos of illegal flights dulls these operators into a false sense of impunity. Perhaps making examples of illegal drone activities with fines will spread throughout the drone operators community to dispel their acts of defiance. The number of aircraft incidents with drones is mounting and only a matter of time before a drone accidentally takes down a full size aircraft. Then drone operators will make national headlines in news media, bringing more attention to illegal activities. Cracking down on illegal drone operations is just the beginning, hopefully avoiding the anticipated full size aircraft or helicopter collision,

    • Too late. A Blackhawk helicopter was already severely damaged by a drone when the drone flew into its blades. Fortunately the helicopter survived while the drone did not. The drone operator should be held financially liable for any damage they cause.

  5. There’s an unlimited well of such people, and an administrative sanction will fall on their deaf ears. Direct warnings apparently don’t work either. The danger is regrettable, but the amount of fines collected may well pay for multiple stimulus packages.

    • So far I believe the faa has collected $0 in fines. They’ve threatened but haven’t collected anything. The people who are doing this likely don’t have much to take even if they do start collecting.

  6. Fine every single one of these ‘Legacy Drone Community’ members who refuse to toe the line. Hopefully the Remote ID requirements will help to further root out this kind of rif-raf.

  7. Proposing a $182,000 fine? Is our FAA now suffering schizophrenia among its many attributes?

    We have always known the FAA is largely lethargic except, for example, suddenly swift if you have an altitude deviation/bust when in the clag. Or a Private Pilot can get an immediate F-16 escort on a TFR violation.

    But if you are a Part 107 pilot or have a flying machine used in a way that requires a Part 107 rating, you can have 26 deviations/busts to generate a proposed $182,000 fine? Proposing is a word that offers a maybe we will, or maybe we won’t sanction this nitwit drone operator.

    Thank you??? FAA for being so forthright with the piston pounder, kerosene burning flying community but vague, offering counseling and education for the Part 107 drone pilots who flagrantly not only thumb their nose at any financial consequences but offer the flying fickle finger of fate symbol as their final response.

    Yes, schizo definitely needs to be added to the description of the FAA. Maybe they will be offering a NPRM so we can comment on our views of this drone operator. Then, after much consolidation and committee dissection’s of all the 26 violations they will propose a fine for a similar NPRM comment opportunity keeping within the SOP of a vast federal bureaucracy we are all way too use to.

    Meanwhile, this arrogant pilot continues to fly without regard for anyone above, around, and below him, providing more evidence, the FAA is a toothless tiger whose bark is it’s only deterrent. This “proposal” is promoting more flagrant drone abuse than preventing it. It provides evidence one can do what they want within the skies, when they want, where they want, in any kinds of weather, the worst that will happen is at least 26 warnings and offers of counselling and education before a “proposal” of a fine.

    I can see this precedence being used by a lawyer defending this outlandish behavior because the FAA reeled someone in before allowing 26 flying violations.

  8. Sorry…last comment was supposed to say….I can see this precedence being used by a lawyer defending similar outlandish behavior because the FAA reeled someone in before allowing 26 flying violations.

    I lose manual dexterity when I am pissed.

    • Or maybe, flying an actual plane into something can cause a lot of damage and death Ala 9/11 and flying a 249g drone into something might cause a bruise or a scratch. Maybe that might be why an f16 isn’t shooting down drones.

      • A drone can cause a lot more than just a “bruise or a scratch”. The Blackhawk that was hit by a drone in NY a few years back needed a new blade, and each one runs around $200k. Fortunately Blackhawks are rather well built – I shudder to think what a typical drone could do to, say, an R22 helicopter. And a drone is much denser than a similar-sized bird.