The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently announced1 it has proposed a US$1.9 million dollar civil penalty against a US company2 for unauthorised unmanned aerial system (UAS) operations across New York City and Chicago.

The FAA alleges a total of 65 unauthorised operations, 43 of which occurred in New York Class B airspace3 and absent air traffic control clearance. The FAA further alleges the operator failed to equip the UAS with a two-way radio, a transponder or any altitude-reporting equipment (required for operations in Class B Airspace). 

In further breach of the regulations, the FAA is also claiming that in respect of each of the 65 unauthorised operations, the aircraft ‘lacked an airworthiness certificate and effective registration, and the operator did not have a Certificate of Waiver or Authorisation for the operations’.4

The UAS operator has 30 days to respond to the FAA from when it receives the FAA’s enforcement letter.5 There is no information to hand at this stage in regards to if, and how the company proposes to respond to the FAA’s enforcement letter.

It is understood this is the largest civil penalty proposed by the FAA against a UAS operator and certainly demonstrates the FAA’s commitment to a strong stance on the regulation and management of UAS’s in US airspace and will no doubt serve as a deterrent to inappropriate UAS operations in the United States.

While UAS regulatory developments in the USA are worthwhile noting and are of interest in the Australian aviation industry, readers should bear in mind the civil penalty proposed by the FAA in this matter is regulated exclusively by the laws of the United States of America and so will not have application in Australia. 

By contrast, operations found to be in breach of the Australian regulations6 on similar grounds (i.e. operations in controlled airspace7 and hazardous operations8) carry maximum fines of up to AU$9,000.00,9 although to date the majority of fines issued by the regulator have been significantly lower than the maximum penalty.