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FAA proposes nearly $2M fine against drone operator

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The FAA is proposing its largest penalty yet against a commercial drone company.

Today it announced a fine of nearly $2 million dollars against Chicago-based Skypan International.

Some background: If you’re just using a drone for fun, as a hobby, there are rules you have to follow,but they aren’t as strict. If you’re using drones to make money, you have to get an exemption from the FAA. This company had that exemption, but the FAA says it didn’t follow all the limitations of that exemption.

On Skypan International’s website, it promotes its use of aerial photography for developers, construction companies and marketing.  It uses drones to get unique, 360 degree, birds-eye views. In order to do this commercially, the FAA granted it an exemption.  But the exemption states limitations.

And now the FAA says, Skypan International broke those rules, saying it didn’t have authorization for dozens of its flights over New York and Chicago from 2012 to 2014.  It also says the aircraft didn’t have the proper certification and radio equipment.

Brandt Madsen, a law partner at SmithAmundsen says the proposed $2 million dollar penalty is unprecedented but likely won’t’ be the last we see.

“My experience is that the FAA usually does their homework very well. Inspectors already finished.  They think they have a pretty good case if they’ve pursued a civil penalty,” Madsen said.

FAA administrator Michael Huerta said today in a statement: “Flying unmanned aircraft in violation of the federal aviation regulations is illegal and can be dangerous.  We have the safest airspace in the world, and everyone who uses it must understand and observe our comprehensive set of rules and regulations.”

Skypam international isn’t commenting on the penalty until it can review the case.  They say they have had an unblemished safety record for 27 years along with an experienced crew.  They have 30 days to respond to the FAA.

While commercial drone users have strict rules they have to follow, so do drone hobbyists.

If you want to fly a drone for fun, you have to keep it under 400 feet and keep it within your eyesight.  And know where you fly.  You have to get permission from an airports control tower if you want to fly within five miles.

The FAA is working on an app that should be ready by the end of the year that will show you exactly what air space you have to stay out of.