A recent settlement announced by the Federal Aviation Administration of a series of enforcement cases it brought against a commercial unmanned aircraft (UAS) operator demonstrates the importance of knowing and understanding UAS regulations before allowing your UAS to take flight.
In the enforcement actions, which were filed in October 2015, the FAA accused SkyPan International, which provides "aerial visual solutions" to construction and real estate companies in New York City and Chicago, of flying UAS for commercial purposes without prior FAA approval and over large metropolitan areas in violation of airspace regulations and aircraft operating rules.
Although SkyPan denied the FAA's allegations and admitted no wrongdoing, it ultimately agreed to settle the case and pay a $200,000 fine, according to a statement issued by FAA officials on January 18, 2017. The $200,000 fine is the largest civil penalty the agency has proposed against a UAS operator.
In addition to the $200,000 fine, FAA officials report that the SkyPan agreed to "pay an additional $150,000 if it violates Federal Aviation Regulations in the next year, and $150,000 more if fails to comply with the terms of the settlement agreement." SkyPan also agreed to work with the FAA to release "three public service announcements in the next 12 months" that will "encourage drone operators to learn and comply with" UAS laws.
While the conduct at issue in the lawsuit took place prior to the significant regulation changes implemented by the FAA in August 2016, the settlement demonstrates that the FAA takes the safety of UAS operations seriously and expects operators to know and comply with the various regulations prior to operation. Indeed, although the regulations implemented by the FAA in August 2016, commonly referred to in the industry as Part 107, now allow for more routine commercial UAS operations, there are still limitations to commercial UAS use that pose perils for the unwary.