FAA Slaps Company With $200K Fine For Flying Drones Over NYC & Chicago

Lest you think The Man won’t come after you for sending commercial drones whizzing through congested airspace over some of our nation’s biggest cities, think again: the Federal Aviation Administration has reached a $200,000 settlement witha company accused of conducting 65 illegal flights in the skies above Chicago and New York City.

SkyPan International agreed to a settlement resolving allegations that the company operated a slew of unmanned aircraft above those busy cities between 2012 and 2014, violating airspace regulations and aircraft operating rules in the process, the FAA announced today.

That agreement includes a $200,000 civil penalty, as well as an additional $150,000 if SkyPan violates FAA regulations within a year, and another $150,000 if it fails to comply with the terms of the settlement.

SkyPan will also work with the FAA to release a series of public service announcements over the next year to support the FAA’s campaigns aimed at urging drone operators to learn and comply with the agency’s recently-issued drone regulations. Those regulations weren’t in place at the time the flights in question took place, so drone operators were required to get clearance from the FAA before taking flight.

The FAA alleged, among other things, that on all 65 flights, SkyPan aircraft “lacked an airworthiness certificate and effective registration, and SkyPan did not have a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization for the operations. Furthermore, the FAA claimed that the company “operated the aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger lives or property.”

While neither admitting nor contesting the allegations SkyPan said in a statement [PDF] that it “wishes to resolve this matter without any further expense or delay of business.”

“SkyPan continues to strive to maintain the utmost levels of safety, security, and privacy protection in its operations,” the company said. “To that end, is pleased to join with the FAA to promote compliance with safety regulations governing UAS operations.”

According to its website, the Chicago-based company uses “proprietary Remote Piloted Vehicles” to provide its clients in the construction business with”aerial view photography” that “shows exactly what you will see from any floor of your building — before it’s built.”

It’s worth noting that although $200,000 isn’t exactly pocket change, the company is getting off the hook relatively easy, as the FAA originally proposed in Oct. 2015 that it fork over a $1.9 million civil penalty, which is the largest civil penalty the agency has proposed against a UAS operator, the agency says.

As for whether or not this $200,000 civil penalty constitutes the largest drone-related settlement, a spokesperson confirmed that yes, it still is.

We also asked the FAA if it had any comment on how the $1.9 million figure was knocked down to $200,000, and were directed to file a Freedom of Information Act Request for the settlement document.

[via Re/code]