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FAA Proposes $1.9 Million Fine Against Photo Company Over Drone Use

Updated 6:30 p.m. ET with SkyPan reaction

The Federal Aviation Administration is proposing a $1.9 million fine against an aerial photography company the agency says took 65 unauthorized flights using drones.

"Flying unmanned aircraft in violation of the Federal Aviation Regulations is illegal and can be dangerous," FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in statement. "We have the safest airspace in the world, and everyone who uses it must understand and observe our comprehensive set of rules and regulations."

According to the FAA, SkyPan International flew unmanned aircraft without authorization in New York and Chicago from 2012 through 2014.

The FAA says it is the largest civil penalty the agency has ever proposed against the operator of a drone. The agency adds:

"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."

According to its website, SkyPan uses the drones to take spectacular photos and videos from high in the sky. For example, the company helps real estate companies show potential clients the kind of view a high rise building would have before the property is built.

The FAA has given the company 30 days to respond to the FAA's proposal.

Skypan president Mark Segal has told member station WBEZ that the proposed fine is ridiculous and unfair, and that the company plans to sit down with the FAA to discuss it.

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.