The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently announced on its website that it was stepping up enforcement actions against individuals and organizations that operate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly known as drones, without proper authorization. According to the FAA website, unauthorized drone operators may be subject to fines of up to $25,000 and up to 20 years in jail. The FAA claims to have levied civil penalties for unauthorized flights, and states that there are a dozen open enforcement cases.
The timing of the FAA’s announcement suggests that it is in response to a rapid increase in reports by pilots that UAS are flying close to manned aircraft. In addition, last month a drone sighting forced firefighters in California to ground aircraft that were intended to help fight wild fires.
The FAA is encouraging the public to report unauthorized drone operations to local law enforcement. Earlier this year, the FAA issued guidance to local law enforcement on applicable laws and policies as well as actions that law enforcement can take in the event of unauthorized drone operations.
In light of the FAA’s announcement, companies that have received a Section 333 Exemption should take proper steps to comply with the applicable conditions and limitations. Businesses that are operating drones for commercial purposes without a Section 333 Exemption may wish to reconsider the risks of being identified by the FAA, the general public, law enforcement and potential competitors that already have received a Section 333 Exemption.