Local Drone Operator May Face Record Fine, FAA Says

Amazing aerial images of Chicago and other cities are possible thanks to unmanned aircraft. But the Federal Aviation Administration said a local drone operator could face a record fine for not following the rules.

Chicago-based SkyPan International, Inc., faces a $1.9 million civil penalty after the FAA said the business operated dozens of unauthorized flights in crowded Chicago and New York air space. According to an FAA press release, SkyPan conducted 65 unauthorized operations between March 21, 2012, and December 15, 2014, in some of the country’s most congested airspace, violating airspace regulations and various operating rules. Of those, 43 flights were in the highly-restricted New York Class B airspace. The agency alleges the aircraft was not equipped with a two-way radio, transponder and altitude-reporting equipment.

“They had been advised by an FAA inspector of what the rules are and they chose to disregard those,” said FAA administrator Michael Huerta.

The FAA alleged that on all 65 flights, SkyPan’s drones lacked an airworthiness certificate and effective registration. The FAA said flying drones in violation of the rules is illegal and can be dangerous.

“If you’re going to operate for commercial purposes within the national airspace system, you need a specific authorization from the FAA,” Huerta said.

SkyPan declined to comment when contacted by NBC 5 Investigates.

The company has 30 days to respond to the FAA.

SkyPan currently holds an FAA exemption, according to its website. A spokesperson for the FAA said the unauthorized flights occurred before the exemption was granted.

Contact Us