Drone Photography Brings $55K FAA Fine to Minnesota Man

Posted by Betsy Lillian on June 14, 2016 3 Comments

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has reportedly levied a whopping $55,000 fine on a Minnesota man for allegedly flying an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) for a commercial purpose without FAA authorization and in a “careless or reckless manner” last summer.

According to a report from The Daily Signal, 56-year-old Mical Caterina, who does not hold a Section 333 exemption, used a DJI Inspire 1 drone to capture aerial photos of an Aug. 15 ceremony for Cecil the lion in St. Paul, Minn.

Before the flight, the FAA learned that the operations would take place and sent a letter to the event’s organizer to detail the differences between model aircraft and UAS, but the agency reportedly did not respond to Caterina’s call to go over the details of the flight. After the flight, the FAA did, however, return the call to go over what went down.

Three days after the operation, the FAA sent a letter to Caterina to let him know the flight was under investigation; in his own letter the next week, Caterina provided all flight details to the FAA, including the fact that he was not compensated for the photos and that the drone did not go higher than 254 feet in altitude.

Following a February subpoena requesting all of Caterina’s drone photography/cinematography work uploaded to the Internet – with which he complied – the FAA sent him a letter in April to let him know he was facing $55,000 fines for flying the aircraft in a “careless or reckless manner” and operating it for a non-hobby/recreational purpose, the report says.

The charges include flying closer than five miles to an airport and 100 feet of a helicopter, but Caterina maintains that his geofencing-equipped drone prevents operations near an airport and that the UAS was more than 800 feet away from the helicopter.

The Daily Signal report says Caterina has told the agency he plans to fight his fines but has not heard a response. The full coverage can be found here.

In a similar case, back in October, the FAA proposed a $1.9 million civil penalty against Chicago-based SkyPan International for allegedly operating drones without commercial authorization and in a “careless or reckless manner.”

Register here to receive our Latest Headlines email newsletter


  1. This drone business is extremely complicated in my opinion. I understand licensing the drones, but this is a classic case of GOVERNMENT IS BEHIND THE TECHNOLOGY.

    Drones are readily available and although they are called drones, they are merely a more sophisticated remote controlled model aircraft.

    There are simple rules for these things.

    Must avoid other aircraft
    Must remain outside airport/airline airspace.
    Must abstain from invasion of privacy issues
    Must not operate recklessly

    However the use of such things for a commercial purpose is ridiculous as a rule that PREVENTS people from utilizing them for a commercial purpose. Its like saying, you can buy a hammer and a screwdriver but you cannot use it for a commercial purpose without a special operator permits.

    Or you can buy a F150 but you cannot use it for a commercial purpose without a license. The reason for this rule is to protect those who want to capitalize in a large way on commercial use of drones. These rules were lobbied for by companies that want to capitalize on the commercial use of drones.

    FAA is for the protection and safety of the airspace NOT the regulation of commerce.

  2. I have been following this technology for a while now. I also have been watching what rules the FAA has proposed. I feel since they don’t have a solid handle on rules as the technology bombarded them (I feel). I wonder how they come up with the monetary fine amount. I say, let’s get some solid rules in place, then…….start fining people. Then on the other hand, I know I have to have a section 333 exemption when I finally purchase mine. I also have to be a certified pilot. Well according to the FAA there is not a solid pilot program in place yet. So the technology is released without the proper training in place to allow people to obtain the experience and knowledge before they start flying. I personally emailed FAA about a pilot certification program because I see all these schools on the internet. Well, they aren’t accredited, so I’m saving my money for an accredited school that will be recognized by FAA when I get my certification.

Leave a Comment

Featured Videos