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The Almighty Buck Government

FAA Proposes $1.9 Million Fine For Unauthorized Drone Use 228

An anonymous reader writes: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has been under pressure to regulate the nascent drone industry. It's obvious they lack a clear idea of how to proceed — but they're trying. Today they announced a proposal to fine SkyPan International a whopping $1.9 million for allegedly conducting 65 unauthorized commercial drone flights over Chicago and New York City. The flights occurred over a period of almost three years, for the purpose of aerial photography. 43 of the flights impinged upon highly restricted airspace, and the FAA says none of them were "without risk." They bluntly allege that SkyPan "operated the aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger lives or property." SkyPan now has 30 days to respond.
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FAA Proposes $1.9 Million Fine For Unauthorized Drone Use

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  • by EzInKy ( 115248 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @05:44AM (#50677675)

    Clear policies need to be established, particularly for those who think they can fly their drones over private property at their whim.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      If you expect to be able to keep aircraft out of the airspace over your house, you are going to be extremely disappointed.

      Even if the rule was "no aircraft under 300m over private property", the cost of cameras that can capture clear images of your nude sunbathing is falling rapidly. Even if you somehow stop that, there is always the danger that a satellite will photograph your house from space on a nice clear, sunny day.

      There seems to be little point in trying to hold this tide back.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        If you expect to be able to keep people from murdering other people, you are going to be extremely disappointed.

        Even if the rule was "no murders within 300m over private property", the cost of weapons that can kill you while you sunbathe is falling rapidly. Even if you somehow stop that, there is always the danger that a deorbiting satellite will crash into your house from space on a nice clear sunny day.

        There seems to be little point in trying to hold this tide back, so let's make murder legal.

        Yeah, not s

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          There are easy and effective deterrents to murder that can be realistically enforced.

          Realistically we can limit drones in certain ways. Limit range from the transmitter, limit the flight time and size being sold in shops. Allow for enforcement in certain areas where there is already enforcement to stop people getting in, e.g. airports. But unless you are willing to ban flying children's toys and search packages coming from China for them you can't really enforce "no flying over residential areas". Tracking

          • Seems like most people are ok with Govt surveilling (NSA), corporations (Google Earth), aircraft, but don't want their fellow citizens neighbors with drones doing the same thing.

            Govt ok, corporations ok, but thy neighbor...

          • by lgw ( 121541 )

            We can realistically limit drones form flying over property too low simply by issuing hunting licenses. There'd be an instant market for drone-killer drones, and of course in rural areas they just get shot down already. (P.S. the everyday consumer has full access to firearms, perhaps moreso than lasers).

      • Even if the rule was "no aircraft under 300m over private property", the cost of cameras that can capture clear images ...

        People are primarily concerned about noise and physical risk. I have no problem with drones that are 1000 ft up. The thing people need to be concerned about is that Amazon puts a delivery route 100 ft above their patio, and that is a real concern: if the FAA rules that use of airspace valid, you have no recourse.

        (Nevertheless, taking "clear images" from 300m away from a shaky drone is pr

        • by jp10558 ( 748604 )

          (Nevertheless, taking "clear images" from 300m away from a shaky drone is pretty tricky; image stabilization is not that good.)

          Have you tried any of the ones with a gimbal? I don't know about using a zoom lens, I don't have one, but I have used OOTB DJI Phantom Vision II v3 and it's pretty amazingly stable in the pictures or video. As stable as I can get holding a camera anyway.

    • Clear policies need to be established, particularly for those who think they can fly their drones over private property at their whim.

      Where did you get the idea that you own the airspace above your house?

      Try arresting any airplane pilots flying over it lately?

    • by KGIII ( 973947 )

      This... If you go back through my posts I've been warning folks that they will need to regulate themselves or be subjected to draconian laws and absurd restrictions written by people who aren't them and don't have their interests in mind. I'm not even a hobbyist, I don't even own a drone or want to. However, as I've said time and time again - you will be hurt if you don't police yourselves.

      Why am I interested? This doesn't affect me. So, why? Because I hate the very idea of people's rights being limited wit

  • by RobinEggs ( 1453925 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @05:54AM (#50677693)
    Yeah, deliberately and knowingly entering reserved airspace dozens of times probably should earn someone a hefty fine, or rather should really earn prison time. Doodling around in the flights paths of commercial airliners constitutes a ridiculous and needless risk if the FAA complaint is accurate. People hate the idea of the FAA controlling drones, but the FAA will *need* power over drones if their pilots keep acting like reckless fuckers.

    Maybe Congress could get off their ass and give the FAA a specific, bounded mandate for controlling and allowing drone flights so airspace regulations doesn't descent into a quagmire of confused case law and bureaucratic over-reach like the ATF handling of firearms has become. There's options, but again if drone pilots don't practice some fucking sense the realistic options for minimal regulation will just keep diminishing.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The problem is a result of the situation in which drones exist but no airspace exists for drones to fly in. If there were a clear and viable way for drone operators to legally share the airspace with other aircraft, then they'd probably do it, especially the commercial ones.

    • or rather should really earn prison time.

      Because the people are inherently dangerous to those immediately around them and thus don't deserve to be part of a population and thus contribute to an over crowded prison system problem despite literally being a hazard to less people than someone driving a car on their daily work commute?

      The idea that everyone should be in prison is really explaining the USA's incarceration rate.

      Yet somehow you can mow down people with a car in the streets in a drunken stupor and it's all good and fine.

    • Yeah, deliberately and knowingly entering reserved airspace dozens of times probably should earn someone a hefty fine, or rather should really earn prison time. Doodling around in the flights paths of commercial airliners constitutes a ridiculous and needless risk if the FAA complaint is accurate.

      And this is the real question. Did these guys really operate drones where there was a real risk of interfering with an aircraft? Or were they merely operating them in airspace which an airplane could conceivably be in, though unlikely if they are not actively engaged in a kamikaze flight? If they really did operate at a risk to commercial air travel, etc., nail them up, pronto. If not, this is ever so much bullshit and bullying. How do we find out which it really was?

    • you can fly in any airspace other then airports at 500 feet. so yes we have laws on this.
  • by bytesex ( 112972 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @05:59AM (#50677705) Homepage

    What the hell is that all about? I rather like the idea of being able to board an aircraft and not have any problems because some yokel with too much money decides it's fun to fly a piece of plastic into the engine of my plane. Please FAA - keep on fining!

    • I think it would be a very hard thing to fly a drone into a jet engine. Like hitting a hole in one from 100 miles away. Even if you managed it, the engine (the whole plane, actually) is designed to ingest birds - it probably won't crash the plane. Even if it did damage the engine, there are at least two of those.

      • by Cederic ( 9623 )

        On purpose? Nah, piece of piss.

        I can think of three ways in the first 30 seconds, only one of which is actually getting good at piloting the damn thing.

        • The ascent rate of a drone is somewhere on the order of 5-10 m/s, decent obviously much higher. A jet on approach is going over 70 m/s, and descending at up to say 15 m/s. That is about the only way you'd have a shot at it, and the conditions are far from ideal. I'd love to hear your 3 methods.

          • by Cederic ( 9623 )

            1 - bloody good piloting. Not one I'd recommend
            2 - autonomous drone, using image recognition to head for the only round black object that's increasing in size towards it
            3 - mentioned elsewhere on this discussion: swarm of drones, arrayed in a pattern that maximises chance of contact

            Or combine 2 and 3, with a swarm that includes seekers

            4 - add fishing wire between the swarm members, with feathers or something on them. Not sure if that one would work, the wing may drag them clear of the engine before it sucke

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @06:29AM (#50677789) Journal
    Air safety is achieved by rigorous enforcement of rules. One can not show the lack of adverse consequences for a violated rule as defense for violating the rule. At the time the rule violation happened, the violator did not know it would have no adverse consequences.

    It did not matter the Air Traffic Control violated 1 km horizontal separation and 1000 feet vertical separation without a mid air collision. If the rule was violated the incident report must be filed. All rule violations must be filed. Accidents are too infrequent to infer statistically significant conclusions.

    Among the federal agencies FAA has a very good track record of amending the rules and regulations to help improve safety. It does not simply issue fines for incident violations. When some rule violation becomes too frequent it analyses the situation and comes up with a solution too.

    For example, when the pilots go through the check lists, if it gets interrupted, the rule is to start from the top all over again. Pilots should NOT try to remember what was done and continue from the middle. But this rule was getting violated too often. They analyzed and found that the check lists were getting too long and it was quite tedious to start from the top. They broke the check list into sections, and amended the rule "Start from the top of section. Each section should start in its own page. No section should have more than so many checks". This is how we achieved the safety in air travel. It might hurt the free market fanatics to accept it, but FAA is one federal agency that is doing its job right.

    May be a little too slow to respond, and may be it has some conflict of goals in its charter, "to promote safety" as well as "to promote air travel". It is high time we remove the requirement for it to promote air travel and make safety its single goal.

    In fact its procedures draw universal acclaim and some medical researchers are arguing for check lists for surgeons for their procedures.

    If FAA says this drone operator flew their machines with reckless disregard for safety, they did. They should pay the fine.

    • Air safety is achieved by rigorous enforcement of rules. One can not show the lack of adverse consequences for a violated rule as defense for violating the rule. At the time the rule violation happened, the violator did not know it would have no adverse consequences.

      As an engineer, I like this kind of thinking because it is fair and predictable--a person who breaks a rule gets the same punishment regardless of whether it causes harm, because the rule is deigned to prevent the *possibility* of harm.

      As a human being, I know our society is too emotional to do that in the real world. We punish drunk driving differently if it causes a death, for example, and let the *luck* of whether someone dies greatly determine the outcome.

      • Speeding causes deaths, too. Should speeding, even a little, be punished as severely as drunk driving? People die from falling objects too; should you be sent to jail for accidentally knocking a flowerpot off your balcony? A lack of serious consequences is no defense for violating the rule, but it is a mitigating circumstance when it comes to setting the punishment. And conversely, rule-breaking may well earn you a stiffer punishment in case you do cause an accident. If you hit someone with your car a
        • Speeding causes deaths, too. Should speeding, even a little, be punished as severely as drunk driving? People die from falling objects too; should you be sent to jail for accidentally knocking a flowerpot off your balcony? A lack of serious consequences is no defense for violating the rule, but it is a mitigating circumstance when it comes to setting the punishment. And conversely, rule-breaking may well earn you a stiffer punishment in case you do cause an accident. If you hit someone with your car and you were found to be speeding or drunk, you'll be more likely to be held fully responsible than if you were operating your car within the rules of the road.

          Punishing a person more because they were unlucky and someone died is the cruel part.

          • No. Take drunk driving. If you drive under the influence and are caught, you get punished for taking a serious risk. If you drink, drive and kill someone, you are punished for an entirely different thing, namely manslaughter (or whatever the legal term is), not for "driving drunk and being unlucky". And your punishment should (and does) depend on how much the judge deems you to be responsible for the accident, ranging from 0% (unavoidable bad luck or the other guy's fault) to 100% (doing it on purpose).
            • You are begging the question, by defining vehicular manslaughter as a crime. It doesn't have to be. We are creating a crime for "drunk driving and being unlucky enough that someone dies."

              What is fair to the rulebreaker is punishing a drunk driver for the crime of manslaughter discounted by his chance of causing it. People are notoriously bad at estimating their chances of having a problem.

              I think it's actually incredibly shortsighted to say the lucky ones cause no harm--they were lucky, and the harm they

      • One of the tenets in FAA rule making is: "If a rule is violated repeatedly and frequently, there is something wrong with the rule. Must find the root cause and fix it."

        The way police "fight" drunk driving is by creating very heavy punishment, but enforce it lackadaisically. The probability of getting caught is low, but if you do get caught the punishment is severe. The ExpectedCost = Sum over the driving population (probability of getting caught * severity of punishment). This leads to widespread rule vio

        • The free market fanatics would attack it continuously and hamper it in every possible way.

          No, the "free market fanatics" don't attack the FAA in "every possible way", we attack the FAA (and other regulatory agencies) in two specific ways: (1) we question the extent of powers they have been granted, usually based on lobbying by special interests, and (2) we point out that rule making in such agencies is always and inevitably dominated by special interests (pilots and corporations in the case of the FAA).

          Righ

          • It is not FAA's job to reassess the property rights and easement rights. Its job and charter is simple, to promote safety and to promote air travel.

            There is nothing to stop Congress from enacting a law and asking FAA to re-evaluate the existing airspace for all users competing for it. Heck, FCC does it all the time in spectrum allocation. It allows free use of the spectrum, with power limits and range limits. Same way, FAA can be mandated to review the airspace allocation policies and come up with a legal

            • It is not FAA's job to reassess the property rights and easement rights. Its job and charter is simple, to promote safety and to promote air travel.

              That's a misleading statement of the FAA's job, and its job is anything but simple, since it necessarily involves balancing a lot of conflicting interests.

              There is nothing to stop Congress from enacting a law and asking FAA to re-evaluate the existing airspace for all users competing for it.

              My point is that pushing for such changes is what you denounce as "free

      • As an engineer, I like this kind of thinking because it is fair and predictable--a person who breaks a rule gets the same punishment regardless of whether it causes harm, because the rule is deigned to prevent the *possibility* of harm.

        That attitude works well provided that "the rule" is designed based on large amounts of statistical data, so that the cost and benefit of different rules were weighed against each other and the optimal decision was made. That's engineering.

        But most government rules don't work

        • For example, when it comes to drone flights, why should drone flights be encumbered by general aviation at all? Why are low-flying executive joy rides more valuable than energy efficient, low cost commercial drones?

          Because General Aviation is a lot more than low-flying executives and it's been around and well regulated since the 1930s. Drones and GA can coexist. Why do you argue as if it's an either or situation?

          • Because General Aviation is a lot more than low-flying executives and it's been around and well regulated since the 1930s. Drones and GA can coexist. Why do you argue as if it's an either or situation?

            Because GA pilots do. They don't want competition for the few paying jobs there are flying a small plane (including aerial photography), so they push for these crazy rules which mean you need a full airworthiness certificate, a pilot's license, a flight plan, and all those other bits of bureaucratic minutia t

    • If FAA says this drone operator flew their machines with reckless disregard for safety, they did. They should pay the fine.

      That's not quite how it works: the company should have the option to go to court, just like you should have the option of contesting your traffic ticket in court.

      • That's not quite how it works: the company should have the option to go to court, just like you should have the option of contesting your traffic ticket in court.

        They do. Once they've exhausted administrative remedies and posted a bond for the entire fine amount. I'm sure the courts will get around to the case before they go bankrupt for lack of liquidity.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @06:35AM (#50677807) Journal

    SkyPan operated the 43 flights in the New York Class B airspace without receiving an air traffic control clearance to access it, the FAA alleges. Additionally, the agency alleges the aircraft was not equipped with a two-way radio, transponder, and altitude-reporting equipment. The FAA further alleges that on all 65 flights, the aircraft lacked an airworthiness certificate and effective registration, and SkyPan did not have a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization for the operations. SkyPan operated the aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger lives or property, the FAA alleges.

    If you have flown to New York and Chicago between March 21, 2012, and Dec. 15, 2014 you might have been endangered by this company. It operated drones which were not airworthy, it operated drones without the transponder to alert the ATC about its altitude, location and speed. These machines are too small to show up in radar. Without a transponder they are nearly invisible to radar.

    New York is where both engines of USAir flight were hit by soft bodied geese weighing less than 20 pounds each and forced the plane to crash land in the Hudson river. The drones have hard metal parts and hard plastic. They would do far more damage to the plane.

    • by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @07:33AM (#50677971)

      It operated drones which were not airworthy

      It operated drones without an Airworthiness Certificate. Note quite the same thing as (not airworthy).

      Note that very few, if any, of the RC model aircraft that have been flying since before most of you were born had Airworthiness Certificates, and yet there was no screaming, wailing, and tearing of clothes.

      Problem seems to be that EVVVVIIIIILLLL!!!! word "drone", not the actual physical object in question....

      • by bkr1_2k ( 237627 )

        Note that most of those "RC model aircraft that have been flying since before most of you were born" also didn't fly in restricted airspace, or commercial flight lanes. This has nothing to do with it being a drone and everything to do with how it was being flown. It would be the same situation of some RC flyer decided to be a douche in the same way. Except he'd probably also be facing jail time.

    • New York is where both engines of USAir flight were hit by soft bodied geese weighing less than 20 pounds each and forced the plane to crash land in the Hudson river. The drones have hard metal parts and hard plastic. They would do far more damage to the plane.

      No, a drone would probably not damage a plane in the manner of the 'Miracle on the Hudson'. Even if a drone took out a single engine, all planes and pilots are certified to fly on the remaining powerplant. The problem is that the US Air plane ran into a flock of geese which took out both engines simultaneously. At least so far, drones have not been flocking (that would be scary.

      I do think that one answer to this is to develop small, low power transponders that will fit on a drone. Should be possible and

      • by Cederic ( 9623 )

        At least so far, drones have not been flocking (that would be scary.

        erm. http://www.popsci.com/watch-fl... [popsci.com]

        Sorry for scaring you. Search Google for a real horror show.

      • Why should the jumbo jet be forced to leave course because of the drone? The transponders are useful for last-ditch safety measures, but they don't replace not having the drones in the way of the airplane. What do you, as the pilot, do when there's several drones in front of you and you can't maintain safe separation from them all?

    • New York is where both engines of USAir flight were hit by soft bodied geese weighing less than 20 pounds each and forced the plane to crash land in the Hudson river. The drones have hard metal parts and hard plastic. They would do far more damage to the plane.

      As this is an obvious design flaw in the plane with or without drones, perhaps the FAA should consider mandating suitable filters on the engine intakes for commercial planes, instead of trying to ban anything that might cross a plane's path.

  • Maybe Drone manufacturers need to step up to help understand the regulations better. Do you think these regulations are clearly defined and easily acceptable? Vote here -> http://www.yanoit.com/#/Questi... [yanoit.com]
    • It's not the manufacturers, it's the users. Those of us who fly rockets - and all the traditional RC aircraft pilots - know the regs and we stick to them pretty damned closely because it's safety. The manufacturers are selling a product, and while it needs to be airworthy and safe to operate, they have no control over where it's operated.

      I can only fly certain impulse rockets near my house because of air traffic restrictions. That doesn't mean manufacturers should make bigger engines - it just means if I w

  • mapbox has a really useful map https://www.mapbox.com/drone/n... [mapbox.com]. FAA have a really simple description https://www.faa.gov/regulation... [faa.gov]

    It shows the exclusion zones around the airports. Defined as Class B airspace.

    The rules are fairly simple. Ground or above is controlled airspace. ATC must know and must be able to know where your aircraft is. You could possibly argue that below the treeline/building line should be considered safe, but the rules are clear.

    Likely the company repeatedly flew in the area

    • Ground or above is controlled airspace.

      So literally throwing a football or Frisbee around in Class B airspace is illegal?

      How about walking? That's also above the ground.

    • If you consider those as aircraft and the faa would likely consider them aircraft then yes.

      Obviously not.

      A drone is a craft capable of sustained flight in a 2 mile hemisphere.

      Below treeline for something that is capable of flying up a mile in the sky is clearly an aircraft. A ball is unlikely to go above tree line, unless you are catapulting, in which case if you go high or into the flight path your could probably run into issues. Ballistic aircraft, possibly?

      Some of the autonomous drone people I know h

  • by RogueWarrior65 ( 678876 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @10:42AM (#50678995)

    Here's the problem: If you allow the FAA to get away with this crap, then you have lost the war and have given up power to yet another byzantine bureaucracy. This five-mile rule is ridiculous for several reasons: 1) Airports generally don't have 360-degree approach patterns (heliports notwithstanding and even they have approach and departure rules), 2) No airport pattern is lower than 800 feet except on final and departure legs which are clearly defined and those don't need 5 miles, 3) Where did they come up with that figure for the fine and who gets the money?

    • I suppose you've read up on the history and rationale behind Class B airspace? No? You should.

      TL;DR - planes don't always go where they planned to go. Emergencies crop up. During said emergencies, the pilots are busy with the emergency and not terribly interested in looking for random balloons, Cessnas, drones and other rif raf. Radars tend to work best if they have a clear sweep of the sky. Five miles at several hundred miles per hour is a very short time frame.

      And other important technical issues.

      It'

      • Actually, I am a pilot and I remember when the airspace was shaped like an upside-down wedding cake. Made a lot more sense. Now it's devolved into a case of "Screw it, we don't want to have to think about it so we're taking all the space." I believe a better compromise exists. For example: at smaller regional airfields, the traffic is very light and usually small therefore they don't need as much space. Ultimately, you can't ever legislate against somebody deciding to do something stupid. However, the

  • that if a government bans civil usage of drones, the country inevitably and hopelessly falls behind in development of the technology. This is already happening. Chinese civil drones produced by the DJI company are much better technologically than anything US or European.

    The US and Canada plans to increase no-fly areas around airport to 9 or even 20 miles for civil UAVs. It means basically banning civil drones. While there was not a single serious accident yet involving a civil drone. In the whole world,
  • As far as I know not a single test was ever done of a collision between a quadcopter and a manned aircraft.

    All we need is a testing facility and frangible design of civil UAVs. After a collision with the speed of more than 150 - 200 km/h UAV should just fall apart as if made from sand. Problem solved.
  • Even the hobbyist drones carry GPS receiver and most of them fly a pre programmed flight path. We can make sure the app does not accept any flight path that violates FAA restrictions. They know their GPS coordinates, most of them feed a HD video stream to their controller. They have enough power to transmit their location to ATC in bursts, like a flash in a older camera, they can accumulate charge in a capacitor and discharge them in a burst that can be picked up by ATC radar.

    Of course someone would hack

  • you can fly in any airspace other then no fly under 500 feet. as there is no risk of hitting any aircraft at that height, these laws have been around for a long time and i hope this company challenges them on there bs.

What this country needs is a good five cent microcomputer.

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