SkyPan International, the drone operator that was fined $1.9 million this month by the FAA for aerial photography flights, maintains it has always operated legally and safely. In a response to the FAA’s charges that it conducted unauthorized flights in New York and Chicago between March 2012 and December 2014, SkyPan says it “operates only in privately owned air space over the private property of its clients. Never flying over people or public spaces, SkyPan always maintains straight up/straight down flights with fulltime altimeter monitoring and complete aircraft control.” The FAA said SkyPan conducted 65 unauthorized commercial drone flights in the period in question, about two-thirds of which occurred in the “highly restricted New York Class B airspace” without “a two-way radio, transponder, and altitude-reporting equipment.”
SkyPan says its drone flights, using single-rotor units that can execute controlled descents in case of motor failure, have never caused incidents or safety concerns in its 27 years. “We look forward to reaching a comprehensive regulatory agreement on and certification of SkyPan methods and foresee that such a measure will become the template for a crucial and evolving American industry,” the company said in its response. It also says it had attempted to work with the FAA in previous years to discuss special permits for its operations, but the agency was “non-responsive,” SkyPan’s Mark Segal told AVweb Thursday via email. So the company continued “business as usual,” he said. In April, SkyPan received an exemption for its operations, the method currently used by companies to use drones commercially. The FAA “has listened more in the past year” as its rulemaking process for commercial drone flying nears finalization, but Segal said the agency is “still quite slow” when it comes to meeting the industry’s growing needs.