FAA Fines Chicago Drone Operator $200,000 Over Illegal Flights

  • SkyPan had flown over Manhattan, other cities for photos
  • Company agrees to make public service announcements for FAA

A drone photography company that was the subject of the highest-profile attempt by a U.S. regulator to enforce aviation law on unmanned aircraft has agreed to pay a $200,000 fine to settle a 2015 case.

SkyPan International Inc., whose website still features aerial photos of urban areas where drone flights are prohibited without special permission, had made 65 flights from 2012 to 2014 in airspace above cities including New York, the Federal Aviation Administration said Tuesday in a release.

The company also agreed to pay as much as $300,000 more if it violates the agreements it reached with the FAA, according to the release. SkyPan will work with the agency to create three public service announcements in the next year, the release said.

The settlement reduced a $1.9 million penalty that FAA had originally proposed when it brought the case in October 2015. The company had used drones to photograph the prospective views from high rises under construction in Manhattan, according to its website.

"While neither admitting nor contesting the allegations that these commercial operations were contrary to FAA regulations, SkyPan wishes to resolve this matter without any
further expense or delay of business," the company said in an e-mail.

The company said it has never had an accident.

At the time the case was brought, the FAA was struggling to control the rapidly growing civilian drone market. Some operators had challenged its legal right to regulate small unmanned aircraft and tens of thousands of the devices were being sold to consumers.

While pilot reports of close encounters with drones have continued, the agency has imposed requirements that owners register their craft and it imposed broad new regulations on their operation on Aug. 29.

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