SkyPan, FAA settle largest-ever fine proposed for a UAS operator

By Patrick C. Miller | January 19, 2017

The Federal Aviation Administration and Chicago-based SkyPan International Inc. this week agreed to settle the largest ever fine proposed against an unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) operator.

According to the FAA, SkyPan will pay a $200,000 civil penalty. The company also agreed to pay an additional $150,000 if it violates federal aviation regulations in the next year, as well as another $150,000 if it fails to comply with the terms of the settlement agreement.

A SkyPan news release said, “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.”

In October 2015, the FAA said it would levy a $1.9 million fine against SkyPan—a UAS aerial photography business—for endangering the safety of U.S. airspace. This came after SkyPan received a Section 333 commercial exemption from the FAA.

The FAA alleged that between March 21, 2012, and Dec. 15, 2014, SkyPan conducted 65 unauthorized commercial flights in congested airspace in New York and Chicago, violating airspace regulations and various operating rules. The agency characterized the aerial photography operations as “illegal and not without risk.”

Under the terms of the settlement agreement between the FAA and SkyPan, the company will work with the agency to release three public service announcements in the next 12 months to support the FAA’s public outreach campaigns that encourage drone operators to learn and comply with UAS regulations.

According to SkyPan, its flights were conducted two years before the FAA’s first rule for commercial UAS operations—Part 107—went into effect last August. The company also said all but a few of its flights were conducted before the FAA began to issue Section 333 exemptions for commercial UAS operations in September 2014.

“SkyPan has never had an accident, and SkyPan has never compromised citizens’ privacy or security,” the company noted.

Founded in 1988, SkyPan owns a patent for a panoramic aerial technology system and uses professional-grade digital camera systems to produce interactive 360-degree photos.