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FAA fines drone company $1.9 million for unauthorized aerial photography flights

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The Federal Aviation Administration handed out its largest-ever penalty to a drone operator for “endangering the safety of our airspace,” the Administration said in a statement Tuesday.

Part of The U.S. Department of Transportation, The FAA hit Chicago-based SkyPan International Inc. with a $1.9 million civil penalty for the 65 “unauthorized operations in some of our most congested airspace and heavily populated cities,” between March 21, 2012 and Dec. 15, 2014, the FAA said in its statement

“These operations were illegal and not without risk,” the FAA statement said.

According to the Administration, SkyPan conducted 65 unauthorized commercial drone flights over various locations in New York City and Chicago between March 21, 2012 and Dec. 15, 2014, for the purpose of aerial photography.

The company flew 43 flights in New York without receiving an air traffic control clearance, and aircraft were not equipped with a two-way radio, transponder, and altitude-reporting equipment, the complaint alleges.

Further, the FAA said that on all 65 flights, aircraft lacked an airworthiness certificate and effective registration, and SkyPan did not have a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization for the operations.

“Flying unmanned aircraft in violation of the Federal Aviation Regulations is illegal and can be dangerous,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in the statement.

“SkyPan has been conducting aerial photography above private property in urban areas for 27 years in full compliance with published FAA regulations,” the company said in an email statement. “SkyPan is fully insured and proud of its impeccable record of protecting the public's safety, security and privacy”

The company has 30 days after receiving the FAA's enforcement letter to respond to the agency, according to the FAA statement.