The Federal Aviation Administration has proposed a $1.9-million fine against a Chicago-based drone operator for “endangering the safety of our airspace.” The FAA says it’s the largest civil action yet against an unmanned-aerial-system operator. The agency claims that, between March 21, 2012, and Dec. 15, 2014, SkyPan International Inc. flew 65 unauthorized commercial UAS flights for aerial photography over New York City and Chicago, including 43 that were conducted without required air-traffic-control clearance in highly restricted Class B airspace in New York. Additionally, the agency says the aircraft was not properly equipped, certified or registered and notes that SkyPan did not have a FAA certificate of waiver or authorization for the operations. Karl Brewick, Skypan’s production coordinator and studio manager, declined to elaborate on a company statement: “SkyPan has been conducting aerial photography above private property in urban areas for 27 years in full compliance with published FAA regulations. SkyPan is fully insured and proud of its impeccable record of protecting the public’s safety, security and privacy.” Laura Vlieg, an associate who specializes in drone regulations at Obadal, Filler, MacLeod & Klein PLC, Alexandria, Va., says FAA enforcement begins with a “notice of proposed civil penalty.” “When we assess a civil penalty, it’s ‘proposed’ because the person or company fined has the right to dispute the assessment, appeal or try to negotiate a settlement,” explained Les Dorr, an FAA spokesman. If a settlement can’t be agreed upon, Dorr says the FAA will refer the matter to the Dept. of Justice, which would file a complaint in U.S. district court. The FAA has initiated more than 20 enforcement cases and settled five in which operators paid civil penalties, Dorr says, adding,“We have proposed penalties in at least six other cases, including SkyPan.” “The hefty proposed civil penalty sends a clear message from the FAA: The agency means business when it comes to national airspace safety,” says Vlieg. “UAS operators better take note and learn to operate within the boundaries of the regulations,” she says, adding, “We remind our clients that good safety is good business, and non-compliance is going to be bad for everyone.”
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