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Focus on Regulation

BREAKING: The FAA Proposes US$1.9 Million Civil Penalty Against SkyPan International, Inc. for Unauthorized Commercial Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Flights

The FAA has proposed a US$1.9 million civil penalty against SkyPan International, Inc. of Chicago for unauthorized UAS operations. According to the FAA’s press release, SkyPan conducted unauthorized commercial UAS flights in some of the nation’s most congested airspace and over two of its most heavily populated cities, violating airspace regulations and various operating rules.

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 without receiving an air traffic control clearance to access it. Additionally, the FAA alleges the aircraft was not equipped with a two-way radio, transponder, and altitude-reporting equipment which aircraft are required to have in order to operate in Class B airspace. Class B airspace is generally airspace from the surface to 10,000 feet mean sea level (MSL) surrounding the nation’s busiest airports.

The FAA further alleges that on all 65 flights, the aircraft lacked an airworthiness certificate and effective registration, and that SkyPan did not have a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) for the operations.

The FAA issued SkyPan a Section 333 Exemption to allow commercial operations of UAS for the purpose of conducting property inspections for the construction industry, developers, and property owners on April 17, 2015, well after the alleged unauthorized flights underlying the proposed civil penalty. The UAS model approved for use under its Section 333 Exemption is the Align T Rex 700E F3C.

Recent UAS incidents involving allegedly reckless operations, including UAS interference with manned aircraft fighting forest fires in California and a drone crashing into the seating area at a U.S. Open tennis match, have industry groups calling on the FAA to take a more aggressive approach to assessing civil penalties against operators who fly in a careless and reckless matter.