The FAA’s Proposed $1.9 Million Fine for SkyPan– Harbinger or Outlier?

The FAA’s Proposed $1.9 Million Fine for SkyPan– Harbinger or Outlier?

While we were in Las Vegas exhibiting at the Commercial UAV Expo, the FAA announced on October 6, 2015 that it is proposing to fine SkyPan International, a Chicago-based drone operator, $1.9 million for repeatedly violating FAA regulations and flying in restricted airspace. The FAA notice states that the company conducted 65 unauthorized flights in the skies over Chicago and New York and alleges that SkyPan operated the aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger lives or property. The fine is the largest the FAA has ever proposed against a drone operator — by about $1.9 million.

The facts of the SkyPan case are unique. SkyPan is relatively open about that fact that it has been using drones in its commercial operations, and according to published reports it received a subpoena from the FAA as early as 2013. ( Presumably, the FAA’s detailed information about the 65 unauthorized flights came from SkyPan’s subpoena responses. In 2014, along with several business plaintiffs, SkyPan sued the FAA in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, challenging the FAA’s regulation of commercial drone operations.

Inquiring minds in the commercial drone world want to know if the FAA’s action is the beginning of a campaign against the many businesses that have been engaged in commercial operation of drones without FAA authorization, or just a one-off enforcement action against a company that has publicly flaunted the FAA’s authority and probably gotten under the agency’s skin. It’s too early to tell, but it may not be too long before we find out. Stay tuned.

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