Drone firm hit with record US fine amid congested airspace claims

19 Jan 2017

SkyPan operates in Chicago and New York. Image: Alessandro Colle/Shutterstock

The highest fine ever paid by a drone company in the US now stands at $200,000, after SkyPan settled for a figure far below the threatened $1.9m sought by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Despite not admitting guilt, nor challenging the allegations of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), aerial photography company SkyPan has agreed to pay a $200,000 civil penalty, with $300,000 worth of fines to follow should it breach any subsequent FAA rules with its drones.

Based in Chicago, SkyPan had been accused by the FAA of conducting dozens of illegal flights in congested airspace, dated prior to when specific regulations governing commercial drone operations were adopted by the FAA.

Drone concerns

According to the FAA, the agreement “resolves enforcement cases” that alleged the company operated unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in congested airspace over New York City and Chicago, and violated airspace regulations and aircraft operating rules.

In a statement released after the landmark payment, SkyPan lauded its own safety record, saying it has never had an accident with its drones, nor “compromised citizens’ privacy or security”.

“SkyPan’s flights were conducted two years before the FAA’s first rule for commercial UAS operations, commonly referred to as Part 107, went into effect in August 2016, and all but a few were conducted before the FAA began to issue exemptions to authorise commercial UAS operations in September 2014, under the Section 333 process,” said the company.

Further fines

Under the terms of the agreement, SkyPan will pay an additional $150,000 if it violates regulations in the next year, and $150,000 more if it fails to comply with the terms of the settlement agreement.

SkyPan also agreed to work with the FAA to release three public service announcements in the next 12 months to support outreach campaigns that encourage drone operators to learn and comply with regulations.

“All pilots – those operating both manned and unmanned aircraft – have a fundamental responsibility to abide by FAA’s regulations to assure a single set of operational allowances and restrictions that may protect the flying public, as well as people and property on the ground,” said SkyPan.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic