Drone Operator SkyPan Hit By $2 Million Fine From FDA

It looks like the feds might finally be getting serious about punishing dangerous unauthorized drone operators. Several individuals have recently been arrested for flying drones at major sports events and concerts, and the FAA is stepping up enforcement of commercial drone operators.

On Tuesday, the Federal Aviation Administration announced it was levying a record $1.9 million fine against aerial photography firm SkyPan International for flying drones in crowded New York and Chicago airspace last year without authorization.

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According to the statement from the FAA, SkyPan, based in Chicago, was responsible for 65 unauthorized drone flights between March 2012 and December 2014, potentially endangering lives by their reckless behavior in some of the region’s busiest airspace.

Despite media requests, Sky Pan has not commented on the FAA fine so far. By law, SkyPan has 30 days to respond to the FAA notice.

Statement from FAA

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

More on $1.9 million FAA fine against drone operator

Apparently, Skypan was involved in 43 flights in the highly restricted Class B New York airspace without prior air traffic control clearance or a Certificate of Waiver. In most cases, Class B airspace is defined as from the ground up to 10,000 feet in a 40 mile radius around all major U.S. airports.

The FAA statement also pointed out that the SkyPan drones were not equipped with the two-way radio, transponder and altitude-reporting equipment required of all manned aircraft.

Keep in mind that the previous largest fine for drone operations was $18,700 against Xizmo Media, a New York-based video company.

Also of note, the FAA’s announcement of the largest-ever fine against a drone operator comes barely a day before a senior FAA official is due to take questions Wednesday on safety hazards related to drones from a panel at a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing.