FAA Proposes Record Fine Against Drone Operator



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The FAA is proposing a nearly $2 million fine against a drone operator it says was operating outside the rules and endangering safety. NPR talks to the head of the FAA about what's behind the hefty penalty.

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The federal government is trying to crack down on illegal drone use. The Federal Aviation Administration is proposing a fine of nearly $2 million against a Chicago company called SkyPan. It uses drones to take aerial photographs of buildings. The head of the FAA spoke to NPR's Brian Naylor about what's behind the move.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: The FAA says, 65 times, SkyPan launched its drones into the airspace above Chicago and New York, which have some of the most restrictive and congested airspace in the country. The FAA charges the drones' operators ignored warnings and repeatedly violated airspace regulations and operating rules. FAA administrator Michael Huerta told NPR that was why his agency proposed the record fine.

MICHAEL HUERTA: It's a very large number of unauthorized operations, and so clearly this is not an inadvertent - you know, someone making a mistake. What we saw here was a pattern of disregard for FAA rules. We saw it taking place in the most restrictive airspace.

NAYLOR: SkyPan's clients are mostly high-rise building developers, including the Trump Tower in Chicago. SkyPan president Mark Segal told member station WBEZ that the proposed fine was ridiculous and unfair and that the company plans to sit down with the FAA to discuss it. The violations occurred between 2012 and 2014. Since then, the company has been issued a waiver by the FAA to operate its drones legally. Huerta says the proposed fine sends drone operators everywhere a message.

HUERTA: What we want to make sure that everyone understands is there are ways to safely operate unmanned aircraft. It is important that you follow those rules. And if you don't follow those rules, we will take enforcement action.

NAYLOR: Congress called on the FAA to issue final rules for commercial drone use by September 30, but Huerta says because of the large number of comments it received about its proposed regulations, it will be early next year before they're ready. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.