clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The FAA just issued the largest fine ever against a company for flying drones illegally

In October, the FAA proposed a $1.9 million fine, but today announced the fine would only be $200,000.

Drone Racing Event Held On New York City's Governors Island Drew Angerer / Getty Images

The Federal Aviation Administration announced today that it will fine SkyPan International of Chicago, a drone company, $200,000 for conducting 65 illegal drone flights in congested airspace over Chicago and New York City. It’s the largest civil penalty the FAA has issued against a drone operator to date.

Originally, the FAA proposed a $1.9 million fine against SkyPan in October. Recode reached out to the FAA to ask why the final settlement is dramatically lower than the previously proposed fine, but did not immediately hear back.

SkyPan advertises itself as an aerial imaging company that can capture a “bird’s-eye view” that’s useful in “dense, urban environments” for developers and architects planning new projects.

The illegal flights were conducted between 2012 and 2014, and the FAA alleged in October that the company was operating drones without proper FAA clearance in some of the country’s most congested airspace. SkyPan was further accused of operating its aircraft without proper communication tools and without receiving an airworthiness certificate and registration.

In addition to the $200,000 fine, the agency announced an additional $150,000 fine SkyPan will be responsible for if it violates FAA rules again in the next year and another $150,000 fine if the company fails to comply with the settlement agreement. SkyPan is also required to work with the FAA to release three public service announcements over the next year to promote FAA rules. In exchange for the fine, the FAA “will make no finding of violation,” according to a statement from SkyPan.

SkyPan’s flights were conducted before the FAA issued its commercial drone operator rules in August 2016, prior to which special FAA clearance was required for commercial drone flights.

The FAA was expected to release its proposal for rules that would clarify how drones are allowed to fly over populated areas in December 2016, but that didn’t happen.

Earlier this month at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said that in 2016 airplane pilots reported 1,800 drone sightings, up from 1,200 drone sightings in 2015. Drone operators are required to avoid flying near other aircraft to prevent a collision in flight, which could cause substantial damage and even bring down a plane.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.