FAA Suggests $1.9M Civil Penalty Against Aerial Photography Company

An October 6th Press Release from the FAA states that SkyPan International, a Chicago based aerial photography company conducted 65 unauthorized operations over a 2+ year period resulting in a $1.9M penalty. This is by far the most severe penalty the FAA has proposed, the previous leader being $18,700 against Xizmo Media which was issued in September.

SkyPan International isn’t your suburban neighbor’s spoiled brat kid who flies his new octocopter through the neighborhood with his HD camera running in hopes to catch…well, you get the idea. SkyPan has been in the aerial photography game for 27 years and was awarded a Section 333 Exemption from the blanket ban of commercial UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) operation from the FAA  in 2015. They also proactively contacted the FAA in 2005, 2008, and 2010 to discuss and suggest technical regulatory parameters. The seemingly civil history between the two entities leaves things in a confusing state, which seems to be par for the course when it comes to UAS.

In case you missed it, we also covered the announcement by the US DOT requiring drone registration.

via bbc.com

13 thoughts on “FAA Suggests $1.9M Civil Penalty Against Aerial Photography Company

    1. 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.

  1. If, as the FAA alleges, SkyPan did fly in Class-B airspace without ATC permission, then they violated their 333 exemption limits. The 333 exemption will typically state:

    The UA may not operate within 5 nautical miles of an airport reference point (ARP) as
    denoted in the current FAA Airport/Facility Directory (AFD) or for airports not
    denoted with an ARP, the center of the airport symbol as denoted on the current
    FAA-published aeronautical chart, unless a letter of agreement with that airport’s
    management is obtained or otherwise permitted by a COA issued to the exemption
    holder. The letter of agreement with the airport management must be made available
    to the Administrator or any law enforcement official upon request

    and

    All Flight operations must be conducted at least 500 feet from all nonparticipating
    persons, vessels, vehicles, and structures

    The FAA will enforce rules it has, and certainly this would be an enforcement action. Multiple repeat violations are a sign that it is a willful action, not an accident and will carry a higher penalty.

  2. Is there a *practical* means through the red tape to operate a UAV within that 5 mile airport exclusion zone? The debate seems to be how heavily UAV operation will be sterilized by bureaucratic burden. This seems like another “lowest common denominator” approach to lawmaking… it makes it simple enough for the village idiot to understand so they don’t fly their $300 device but also applies to a professional company who is properly insured, understands implications of airspace incursions and takes all appropriate precautions for a safe outcome while going about their business. Did SkyPan do anything that actually and practically put lives at risk?

    1. I’m not sure there is a lot of red tape involved in operating in Class B Airspace. If you have filed the correct paperwork, you are to contact ATC to inform them of operations. It’s not directly stated, but I think it’s safe to assume, that to will coordinate with ATC as the rules to explicitly state operators will yield to any other air traffic.

      The problem is that this “professional” company operated on their own terms, even after warnings that they were operating illegally, and recklessly. They didn’t bother to register the aircraft or obtain a special airworthiness certificate. Perhaps this may not bother folks who aren’t fond of a lot of regulation, but it’s hard to argue with this part:

      “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.”

      Flying in Class B airspace without even contacting ATC and with ZERO ground telemetry is “village idiot” territory. Even if they had contacted ATC and were given clearance to fly at a specified altitude ceiling, how would they know without any sort of telemetry? I imagine they may have been flying FPV, but without instruments, you aren’t going to see another aircraft until it’s too late for easy avoidance measures.

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