Chicago-based SkyPan International, which was recently proposed a $1.9 million fine from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for what the agency called “unauthorized [drone] operations in some of the country’s most congested airspace and heavily populated cities,” has spoken out on the allegations.
Between March 21, 2012, and Dec. 15, 2014, the FAA claimed, SkyPan conducted 65 unauthorized operations involving aerial photography over locations in New York City and Chicago. Of these, 43 flights were in highly restricted New York Class B airspace without SkyPan’s having received air traffic control clearance, according to the FAA.
In a seven-part response on its website, SkyPan notes its 27 years of experience in aerial photography, using both manned and unmanned aircraft, for the residential real estate industry – “without a single instance of personal or property damage, without a single instance of invasion of privacy, and without a single instance of jeopardizing security or safety.”
The company says it uses single-rotor rather than multi-rotor drones so that they “are capable of controlled autorotation descent resulting from motor failure.” Also, they are “repeatedly tested and were inspected by the FAA in August 2013.”
The company maintains that it conducts operations not near people or in public areas but, rather, only in “privately owned airspace over the private property of its clients” and never in “navigable U.S. airspace as defined by the FAA” or at altitudes “higher than surrounding structures.”
The FAA, however, alleged that SkyPan operated the aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger lives or property.
SkyPan adds that it “proactively contacted the FAA” three times between 2005-2010 in order to “explore special permitting” for commercial drone operations. The company says it met with FAA officials in Illinois, New York and Washington, D.C., to discuss “regulatory and suggested technical parameters.” SkyPan also notes that it received an FAA commercial exemption earlier this year.
“SkyPan has developed and utilized time-tested safety protocols and procedures, invested in continual research and development of flight system technology, and provided detailed pre-flight process consultation with property owners and major engineering/construction contractors,” the company continues.
“These measures and systems ensure that SkyPan, always operating with ample insurance, property owner advance clearance, and robust legal advisory fundamentals, consistently and reliably protects the interests of its business clients, surrounding property owners and the public at large.”
In order to continue to provide photography services for real estate, the company says it will “continue to work with the FAA to resolve the technical and legal parameters of SkyPan’s unique and exclusive over-private-property operations in its commercial UAS enterprise.”
“We look forward to reaching a comprehensive regulatory agreement on and certification of SkyPan methods and foresee that such a measure will become the template for a crucial and evolving American industry.”