Further allegations included the aircraft’s lack of a two-way radio, transponder, and altitude-reporting equipment, SkyPan’s failure to obtain a certificate of airworthiness or registration for their aircraft, or a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization for the flights.
As we pointed out at the time, the legitimacy of this fine is going to come down to a matter of timing, as the FAA is essentially claiming SkyPan violated the rules of the air for drones well before there was an official plan to draft said rules, let alone publish them.
The FAA has a history of making headlines with big fines only to settle out of court for fractions of the initial amount, and this very well could be the latest chapter in this volume of scare tactics that seems to be more of a deterrent for potential drone users rather than a legitimate punishment for wrongdoers.
On Monday, SkyPan issued a ‘response’ to the FAA’s fine.
It has seven points but only one real attempt to defend the company.
Five of the seven points in the response can be summed up like so:
A) “SkyPan is good for business,” specifically the real estate business.
B) SkyPan has never had a complaint from the public.
E) SkyPan has participated in the UAS industry by being active members of trade associations within the community.
F) SkyPan is a leader in the their space and is the “oldest continuing RC helicopter company” in the U.S. (They refer to the aircraft in question as UAS and UAV earlier in their post. Changing to RC helicopter here is an unsuccessful attempt to change the sounds of the narrative.)
G) SkyPan wants to stay in business and is more than willing to work with the FAA to develop their drone policies.
This all sounds wonderful, except that nothing addressed here is being called into question.
What about points C and D, you ask?
Point C says, “SkyPan operates only in privately owned air space over the private property of its clients.” Now, that sounds like it SkyPan operated/s within the law, but the FAA has publicly said it controls all airspace…even the space above your lawn where your dog stands while he poops… So, according to the FAA, there is no such thing as privately owned airspace in the sense SkyPan is intending here.
If SkyPan takes the issue to court though, part of a potential ruling could clarify who owns what airspace when it comes to private real estate.
And finally, Point D is where the lack of detail is the most open ended and the most crucial to SkyPan’s case.
It states, “SkyPan proactively contacted the FAA in 2005, 2008, and 2010 to explore special permitting for its commercial UAS activity, by discussing regulatory and suggested technical parameters with FAA officials.”
Congress mandated the FAA to come up with enforceable legislation to govern the use of drones in the national airspace in 2012 and the FAA has yet to fulfill that mandate.
So it goes without saying there were no rules in place when SkyPan supposedly contacted the FAA in ’05, ’08, and ’10. The contents of these discussions will prove immensely important should SkyPan decide to fight the fine, but their willingness to cooperate early and often should bode well for them if they do, in fact, go to court.
The FAA’s lack of regulations hurt them in the past and it very well could hurt them again. Is SkyPan at fault if they did, in fact, ask to be exempt from a rule only to find the rule didn’t exist?
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com