Drone pilot fined $182,000 after breaking the FAA rules in 26 flights

Tips & Techniques

A drone pilot from Philadelphia recently earned a massive $182,000 fine from the FAA. He allegedly broke multiple regulations over 26 separate flights over the course of only one year. Drone attorney Jonathan Rupprecht has analyzed the case and explains how it is even possible for the FAA to know when and how you’ve broken the rules.

Rupprecht has obtained a copy of the penalty letter but kept the pilot’s identity hidden. “He has 182,000 problems and I don’t need to give another one,” he writes. The penalty letter lists at least 26 times when the pilot flew without respecting the FAA’s regulations. These flights took place between August 2019 and August 2020.

According to Rupprecht, the irresponsible pilot had been warned of his violations. In other words, the FAA didn’t wait for the 26th strike to slap him with the massive fine. In the penalty letter, the FAA states that they sent out a warning letter “on or about” October 22, 2019. “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 under the Federal Aviation Regulations,” the letter reads further.

So how could FAA discover every single violation? First of all, the pilot reportedly published lots of aerial videos on his YouTube channel. Many of them show screenshots of the ground control station, so anyone can see the information like location, altitude, flight direction, and more. Since there’s also a map, the FAA can easily figure out if the flight occurred in controlled airspace. Some videos were filmed at night, so that violation is pretty easy to figure out, right?

According to the penalty letter, some flights happened during the day in difficult weather conditions. These include “heavy fog”, “while it was raining”, “while it was snowing”, and “during strong winds.” It can also be figured out from the video, but anyone can also access METeorological Aerodrome Reports (METARs) where there are all kinds of weather information.

Speaking DPReview, Rupprecht said:

“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.”

All in all, keep in mind that it shouldn’t be difficult for the FAA to figure out when you break the rules. Consequently, you can get fined or even end up in jail. However, what you should be more concerned about is people’s safety. You shouldn’t fly over or near crowds, airports, airplanes, etc. not because you’ll pay a fine, but because you risk hurting someone.

[via DPReview]

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