The FAA on Tuesday announced its largest-ever civil penalty against a drone operator, proposing a fine of $1.9 million against SkyPan International, based in Chicago, for “careless or reckless” operations. The FAA says SkyPan conducted 65 unauthorized commercial drone flights to take aerial photographs in New York and Chicago between March 2012 and December 2014. About two-thirds of those flights took place in the “highly restricted New York Class B airspace,” the FAA said. The drones were not equipped with “a two-way radio, transponder, and altitude-reporting equipment,” the FAA said, which are required in Class B, and the operators didn’t seek clearance from air traffic control.
“Flying unmanned aircraft in violation of the federal aviation regulations is illegal and can be dangerous,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “We have the safest airspace in the world, and everyone who uses it must understand and observe our comprehensive set of rules and regulations.” The FAA’s rules for the operation of small drones, which were due to be completed last month, are expected to be out in draft form next summer. According to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), the FAA granted SkyPan a Section 333 exemption, “which serves as the primary method to legally commercially operate until the FAA finalizes its small UAS rules,” on April 17 of this year.SkyPan has 30 days to respond to the agency’s allegations.
In a statement sent to AVweb by email on Tuesday, the company said: “SkyPan has been conducting aerial photography above private property in urban areas for 27 years in full compliance with published FAA regulations. SkyPan is fully insured and proud of its impeccable record of protecting the public’s safety, security and privacy.“Brian Wynne, president of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), released a statement Tuesday noting that the association is not familiar with the details of the case, but said “anyone flying a UAS in an unsafe or unauthorized manner should be held accountable.”However, Wynne added, “The FAA also needs to immediately finalize the small UAS rule. Finalizing the rule will put a regulatory framework in place for the many businesses wanting to fly.”