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$1.9 Million Civil Penalty Proposed Against Drone Operator

Screen shot of a website from company called SkyPan International

The FAA has just filed what appears to be the first significant enforcement action since the FAA started issuing commercial drone flight authorizations based on grants of exemptions of Federal Aviation Regulations (pursuant to section 333 of the FAA Reform Act of 2012).

The company subject to the action is SkyPan International.  A company with that name was granted a 333 exemption for real estate photography in April of 2015.  The company operates a website which is here: .  The FAA’s release on this action claims that SkyPan was flying over New York City and Chicago since 2012, and had no Certificate of Authorization or Waiver (COA) to do so, and is being cited for 65 such unauthorized flights.  Subsequent to the FAA charges, SkyPan issued a response, which is on its website.

Sidebar:  It’s interesting to look at this in relation to FAA Notice N 8900.313, issued this past August 4,  which provides FAA Flight Standards divisions, Flight Standards District Offices, and aviation safety inspectors with the “FAA approved” protocol for how drone operators should be “properly educated” if they violate a regulation within the NAS.  Per the notice, an FAA representative is to attempt to call an operator on the phone, and “conduct an inquiry appropriate to the circumstances.”  Beyond that the inspector will review with the operator the appropriate Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) provisions and offer counsel  on how to operate the UAV within the regs. If the inspector deems necessary, he/she will send out an administrative informational letter that includes website addresses to FAA UAS guidance and relevant CFR provisions.  However, if the operator is  “uncooperative, intentionally noncompliant, or the operation poses medium to high potential or actual endangerment to the NAS,” he or she may proceed with an enforcement action as outlined in the Compliance and Enforcement Bulletin No. 2014-2, and a legal or administrative proceeding can be initiated. Of course, the operator may seek legal advice and guidance anywhere along this path, and likely should.  If NewsDrones can help you sort through your needs and procedures, please contact us.

Here’s FAA Notice N 8900.313, if you want to see the full detail:

And here’s a reprint of the release issued Oct. 6 concerning the latest enforcement action.

Press Release – FAA Proposes $1.9 Million Civil Penalty Against SkyPan International for Allegedly Unauthorized Unmanned Aircraft 

For Immediate Release

October 6, 2015
Contact: Les Dorr or Alison Duquette
Phone: (202) 267-3883; email:

NEW YORK – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today announces the largest civil penalty the FAA has proposed against a UAS operator for endangering the safety of our airspace.

The FAA proposes a $1.9 million civil penalty against SkyPan International, Inc. of Chicago. Between March 21, 2012, and Dec. 15, 2014, SkyPan conducted 65 unauthorized operations in some of our most congested airspace and heavily populated cities, violating airspace regulations and various operating rules, the FAA alleges. These operations were illegal and not without risk.

The FAA alleges that the company conducted 65 unauthorized commercial UAS flights over various locations in New York City and Chicago between March 21, 2012 and Dec. 15, 2014.  The flights involved aerial photography.  Of those, 43 flew in the highly restricted New York Class B airspace.

“Flying unmanned aircraft in violation of the Federal Aviation Regulations is illegal and can be dangerous,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.  “We have the safest airspace in the world, and everyone who uses it must understand and observe our comprehensive set of rules and regulations.”

SkyPan operated the 43 flights in the New York Class B airspace without receiving an air traffic control clearance to access it, the FAA alleges.  Additionally, the agency alleges the aircraft was not equipped with a two-way radio, transponder, and altitude-reporting equipment.

The FAA further 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.

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

SkyPan has 30 days after receiving the FAA’s enforcement letter to respond to the agency.

(end of release)

Updated Dec. 29, 2015