In the last several years, the fast paced world of the drone has made news. As it stands now, drone usage for personal reasons is acceptable. However, the regulations that govern commercial usage are not quite as forgiving. For 27 years, a Chicago based company called SkyPan International has been using drones as part of their every day routine in their real estate business. Though they are not the only company to use drone technology, they are certainly one the FAA is aware of.
These drones are used in the context of showing potential buyers what a view would look like from the 30th floor. In a recent report, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) determined that SkyPan International broke the law 65 times by taking pictures in a heavily congested area, thus violating airspace regulations and various operating rules. Some of those rules include violating the public’s privacy. Because of this, the FAA has assessed the real estate company a nearly two million dollar fine.
Before you begin to think the FAA is going overboard and the fine is a huge surprise, you should know that there is more to this story. This fine comes from a 2012 cease and desist order issued by the FAA, in which they launched a thorough investigation. At that point, the FAA determined what they were doing was illegal, but they were glad it was being done in a safe manner. For years, the president of the company invited the FAA in to monitor their activities. As with other bureaucracy, it took some time for the FAA to assess the penalty.
Now that the fine has been assessed, the real estate company has 30 days to appeal or negotiate this charge. If they are unable to come to a solution, the case gets passed to a district court, by way of the Department of Justice. The company is, of course, hoping for an exception to the regulations, because it was operating these types of drones before there was ever any type of regulation. Because the wheels of the FAA turn very slowly and deliberately, exceptions to regulations are very rare.
Ultimately, SkyPan has knowingly and willfully been breaking the law since the regulations came in to effect. They have clearly been doing it for at least three years. Since there is no sign that they intend to stop, I feel they should pay the fine, and be glad they are not being shut down because of these rules violations. This is exactly why regulations on drones need to be defined. If the regulating agency has no teeth other than civil penalties, what is the point of regulating it?