NEWS: FAA, SkyPan Settle Charges of Alleged Improper Drone Flights

SkyPan International remotely piloted helicopter
SkyPan uses a remotely piloted helicopter to take photos for the real estate and construction industries. (Photo: SkyPan International)

The FAA and Chicago-based SkyPan International have reached a “comprehensive settlement” of alleged improper drone flights that calls for the company to pay a $200,000 fine and assist the agency with its public outreach campaign on drone regulations. Announced on January 17, the fine is the largest monetary penalty the FAA has collected for operations involving unmanned aircraft systems.

In a press release, SkyPan said it was pleased to resolve the enforcement action the FAA announced in October 2015 to punish the company for drone flights over Chicago and New York City between 2012 and 2014. At the time, the FAA proposed a $1.9 million fine, the largest such civil penalty. “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 exchange, the FAA makes no finding of violation.”

SkyPan agreed to pay an additional $150,000 if it violates FAA regulations in the next year, and $150,000 more if it fails to comply with the terms of the three-year agreement. The aerial photography company will work with the FAA on three public service announcements over the next year to encourage proper drone operations and compliance with regulations.

The entirety of the contested flights took place two years before the August 29 effective date of the FAA’s Part 107 regulation for small unmanned aircraft systems, and “all but a few” were conducted before the FAA started issuing exemptions for drone flights in September 2014 under the Section 333 process, SkyPan said in its release. “SkyPan has never had an accident, and SkyPan has never compromised citizens’ privacy or security,” the company said, adding that it obtained a Section 333 exemption in 2015.

Founded in 1988, SkyPan provides aerial panoramic photography for the real estate and construction industries using a system hosted on an Align T Rex 700E model helicopter.

SkyPan owns a patent for its panoramic aerial technology system and uses professional-grade digital camera systems to produce interactive 360-degree photos showing future views at exactly-measured, multiple heights,” the company said. “These SkyPan digital images assist clients with pre-planning needs such as entitlements and zoning, investor presentations, pricing studies and architectural design, and in later phases of development as integral components of their marketing teams’ pre-sales and sales presentations.”

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