FAA proposes nearly $2 million fine against Chicago drone operator

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October 7, 2015

CHICAGO — A Chicago aerial photography firm was hit Tuesday by the Federal Aviation Administration with a record proposed fine of $1.9 million for flying drones in busy downtown Chicago and New York without permission.

October 7, 2015

CHICAGO — A Chicago aerial photography firm was hit Tuesday by the Federal Aviation Administration with a record proposed fine of $1.9 million for flying drones in busy downtown Chicago and New York without permission.

A Ghost drone by EHang is prepared for a flight at the 2015 International CES outside the Las Vegas Convention Center on January 8, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

SkyPan International — which provides dramatic aerial photography to dozens of high-end property developers and architects, including the Trump Organization — endangered life and property when it flew 64 unauthorized flights in New York and one just north of Chicago's Loop between March 2012 and December 2014, the FAA alleges.

Its drone was not registered with the FAA, did not have a certificate of airworthiness and lacked the two-way radio, transponder and altitude-reporting equipment required by the law for commercial use of drones, the FAA said.

A spokesman for SkyPan, which on its website says it's "flight approved" by the FAA, declined to comment on the allegations Tuesday.

But the proposed fines are likely to fuel debate about the use and safety of drones — a topic an FAA official is due to be grilled on Wednesday by members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The rapid growth of the drone industry has caught the government unaware: In 2010 the FAA predicted the U.S. would have 15,000 drones in use by 2020, a number now sold every month, with up to 1 million now expected to be sold during the 2015 holiday season.

A letter sent by the FAA to SkyPan on Tuesday says that in addition to 43 illegal flights SkyPan allegedly made in New York's heavily restricted Class B airspace, it also made two flights at one of the new World Trade Center building sites.

And on July 20, 2013, it flew illegally at or near 151 N. Franklin in Chicago, the FAA alleges. The site of a shuttered Walgreens drugstore is being redeveloped as a 32-story, 710,000-square-foot office building by The John Buck Company, which SkyPan lists as a client on its website. John Buck did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The previous largest fine for drone operations was $18,700 against Xizmo Media, a New York video production company, the FAA said. The proposed fine against SkyPan dwarfs that because of the number of alleged infractions, and because the FAA "approached SkyPan a number of times and told them what was required" but got no action, FAA spokesman Les Dorr said.

SkyPan has 30 days to respond to the FAA charges.


Courtesy: Chicago Tribune

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