A drone pilot from Philidelphia, Pennsylvania, was slapped with a $182,000 fine from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The individual, whose identity remains anonymous, incurred this massive fee after conducting at least 26 separate flights that violated Federal Aviation Regulations between December 2019 and August 2020.
The story made its rounds in the news earlier in the month. Recently, respected aviation attorney Jonathan Rupprecht, who was granted access to a copy of the penalty letter, went more in depth on the nature of the violations. He explains how the FAA can easily determine each wrongdoing and build a case against the offender. Rupprecht is not certain how the pilot was caught but speculates that videos of illegal flight activity posted to YouTube provided overwhelming evidence of lawbreaking and were thus reported to the FAA.
‘This is the second largest proposed fine that I know about. Skypan was for about $1.9 million. Drone flyers need to realize that flying a drone is a regulated activity and there are consequences. While a fine might not deter some, laws have been passed in recent years which can send you to federal prison for operating in an unsafe way near airports or aircraft,’ Rupprecht explains to DPReview.
How did one person manage to rack up $182,000 in fines in such a short period of time? It’s hard to feel sympathy when more than one warning was given. As Rupprecht outlines in his post, the FAA reached out to the pilot two separate times, as early as October 2019, via letters regarding earlier illegal flights not included in this fee. In November, the government agency wrote ‘on or about November 4, 2019 and November 6, 2019, the FAA provided you with counseling and education regarding requirements for safe operations of a sUAS…’
Yes this means, as Rupprecht points out in his post, that your friends and competitors can also easily do their homework if they suspect and image or video you post online may have not been conducted legally.
YouTube videos showed the pilot operating in controlled airspace without obtaining LAANC authorization, at night without a waiver, and beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS). These clips also revealed flight in hazardous conditions including heavy rain, fog, snow, and close proximity to buildings in downtown Philadelphia. There was also posted proof of the pilot intentionally losing the radio signal, and control, of his drone.
How can the FAA prove this? Weather conditions can be cross checked with METeorological Aerodrome Reports (METARs) published by airports. Resources such as airmen registry determined the pilot didn’t have Part 107 certification when flying above 400 ft. AGL. As for flying at night or BVLOS, anyone can search the Part 107 Waivers Issued page by name.
Yes this means, as Rupprecht points out in his post, that your friends and competitors can also easily do their homework if they suspect an image or video you post online may have not been conducted legally. Overall, with the resources the FAA and Department of Justice have at their disposal, they’ve determined that the pilot violated 12 regulations over these 26 flights.
You shouldn’t be violating Federal Aviation Regulations at any time – not only could you get fined or go to prison, you also potentially put innocent bystanders in harms way. As the Detroit Blue Angels drone fiasco from earlier this year illustrates, posting evidence of severe wrongdoing on social media is the easiest way to incriminate yourself and get an in-person visit from the FBI.