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Aerial Photography Company Settles With FAA Over Illegally Flying Drones

Drone in FlightDrone in Flight
A drone in flight.Photo by Bruce Bennett — Getty Images

An aerial photography company has agreed to settle allegations by the Federal Aviation Administration that it flew drones without authorization.

SkyPan International, which uses drones to take aerial photos for corporate clients like Wells Fargo and Ritz Carlton Residences, has agreed to pay $200,000 to settle accusations that it violated rules by flying drones in New York City and Chicago in 2012 through 2014, the FAA said Tuesday.

In 2015, the FAA proposed a $2 million fine for SkyPan. The amount was eventually reduced as part of the settlement.

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The FAA alleged that SkyPan was not authorized to fly drones for business purposes and that its drones were not equipped with a required two-way radio, altitude-reporting equipment, and other accessories for tracking and recording drone flight data.

In addition to the fine, SkyPan will be required to work with the FAA on three public service announcements about legally operating drones. SkyPan must pay $150,000 if it violates the FAA’s rules again, plus another $150,000 if it fails to follow through on its settlement requirements.

The drone flights in question were made before August, when the FAA released final rules for how businesses can fly drones for commercial purposes. Those new rules include prohibitions against flying drones at night, above 400 feet, or out of sight of their pilots. Companies must also have a licensed drone operator involved. However, certain activities still require special authorizations from the FAA.

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SkyPan, which did not admit to the accusations as part of the settlement, said that it has “never had an accident” and that its drones “never compromised citizens’ privacy or security.”