FAA Issues Record Fine Against Drone Operator

By William D. Ezzell

Yesterday, SkyPan International Inc. (SkyPan), a drone-photography company that provides aerial imagery for the commercial real estate industry, agreed to pay the FAA $200,000 in civil penalties for a litany of alleged violations involving SkyPan’s operations over New York and Chicago between 2012 and 2014. The settlement comes after a year-long investigation and subsequent civil suit that was filed in October 2015.

Things could have been much worse; the FAA had originally proposed a whopping $1.9 million civil penalty for 65 unauthorized flights, totaling 389 violations, which included operating an unregistered aircraft, failure to display current airworthiness and registration certificates, and operating an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner. The New York flights additionally occurred in Class B Airspace and included operations without clearance, improper transponder/altitude reporting, and lack of two-way radio. The size of the original penalty further reflected SkyPan’s failure to comply with the FAA’s numerous notices to cease such operations. 

While it remains to be seen whether the FAA will maintain its relatively lenient enforcement (or at least settlement) posture, one thing is clear: with a new UAS regulatory scheme in place, the FAA will not tolerate non-compliance when known or brought to its attention. Operators take note; enforcement is no longer coming, it’s here. And compliance is critical.