SkyPan Fined $1.9 Million for Unauthorized Drone Operation

An aerial photography company has been fined $1.9 million for 'endangering the safety of our airspace.'
(Image: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain)
An aerial photography company has been fined $1.9 million for 'endangering the safety of our airspace.' (Image: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain)

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has shown it is not afraid to hand out fines when it comes to the use of drones. In a statement, the FAA announced its largest fine to date against drone operator SkyPan International.

SkyPan is an aerial photography company that was fined $1.9 million dollars “for endangering the safety of our airspace.” The FAA accused SkyPan of 65 unauthorized flights in New York City and Chicago between the years 2012 and 2014.

In the statement, FAA alleged the unauthorized operations were “in some of our most congested airspace and heavily populated cities,” and their actions were “violating airspace regulations and various operating rules.”

See why this drone operator faces a hefty fine for alleged airspace violations:

Waivers have been issued by the FAA allowing Hollywood studios and other companies to operate drones. However, for the most part, there is still a federal ban on the use of commercial drones.

SkyPan obtained a waiver in April 2015, but all unauthorized flights occurred before that date.

Michael Huerta, the FAA Administrator, said in a statement:

Flying unmanned aircraft in violation of the Federal Aviation Regulations is illegal and can be dangerous.

“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 drone that SkyPan used “was not equipped with a two-way radio, transponder, and altitude-reporting equipment,” and that 43 of the alleged flights were in the “New York Class B airspace without receiving an air traffic control clearance to access it.”

FAA also “alleges that on all 65 flights, the aircraft lacked an airworthiness certificate and effective registration, and SkyPan did not have a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization for the operations.”

Even after being directed by U.S. Congress to have regulations in place by September 30 for use of commercial drones, the FAA is still working on them. This has resulted in the federal ban on the use of commercial drones being left in place.

Some have urged the FAA to move quickly in allowing the broader legal use of drones, while others have been alarmed with the amount of irresponsible drone users.

Pilots have already reported more than 650 close calls with unmanned aircraft this year alone, which is well over twice the amount of last year’s 238 reports.

The FAA said:

SkyPan operated the aircraft in a careless or reckless manner, so as to endanger lives or property.

After SkyPan receives the enforcement letter, they have 30 days to respond to the agency.

SkyPan told the National Journal: “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.”

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