"They propose a scare-you-to-death fine, you talk to them, and then they give you a slap-on-the-wrist fine and go on their way," Peter Sachs, a Connecticut-based drone attorney told me.Be careful if you fly on the East CoastThe FAA has issued fines to people who have flown drones into public buildings, over sports stadiums, and in Washington DC's restricted flight area. Those fines make at least some amount of sense—more puzzlingly, the FAA has fined people for flights that have ended in no incident whatsoever, and once fined two people who crashed their drones into each other over the ocean in Puerto Rico.
"There's drones being used all over the country, so why such a focus on New York, Washington, and Boston?"
"Nothing is centralized," Harvey told me. The official I worked with wrote in a response to my request that these were all of the fines the agency has issued, but spokespeople for the FAA headquarters weren't able to confirm that was the case. It's entirely possible, then, that even the FAA has no idea how many fines it has issued. These documents are, however, the most complete list of fines ever released. If you know of any others, please contact me.If you're a drone law nerd, the documents make for interesting reading. If you're not, the broad takeaways here are that only certain FAA offices care or have the bandwidth to worry about punishing drone pilots.The documents also suggest that if you're fined by the FAA, you should definitely appeal or ask for a settlement, because there's a good chance you can end up with a lower fine. It's also noteworthy that you could be fined even if you don't crash your drone into anything. And one last thing: Don't fly your drone near a sporting event, and definitely stay out of Washington DC, where fines are uniformly the highest.Here's what happened in every case, in order from lowest fine to highest fine:Austin, Texas, August 30, 2014, Shawn Phillip Wyse; $1,100
Both men were fined because of "damage to the hotel property," even though the drones crashed into the ocean
Wyse flew a Phantom II above Texas Memorial Stadium at University of Texas at Austin during a University of Texas football game. He was fined $1,100 but settled for $800.
Taylor flew a Phantom 2 above the Bryant Denny Football Stadium before a University of Alabama v Mississippi State University football game. The drone "descended into a parking lot and struck a pedestrian just before it fell to the ground." Taylor turned himself in. Taylor was fined $1,100 but it was reduced to $900.Queens, New York, May 25, 2014, Clinton Bascom; $1,100
Bascom flew his Phantom in Flushing Meadow Park and above CitiField Stadium, where the Mets play. He was fined $1,100 but it was later reduced to $550.San Juan, Puerto Rico, October 18, 2015, Marcos Plaja-Ferreira and Alberto Haber-Flores; $1,100 each
Plaja-Ferreira's drone collided midair with Alberto Haber-Flores's drone above the ocean outside the Caribe Hilton Hotel. Both men were fined because of "damage to the hotel property," even though the drones crashed into the ocean.US Coast Guard Housing Complex Rio Bayamon, Puerto Rico, Jorge Lubo, July 5, 2015; $1,100
Lubo apparently flew his Parrot Bebop drone in the housing complex two separate times and was warned by the FAA about flying his drone there. On July 5, he flew the drone again and crashed it into a US Coast Guard vehicle.Fairfield Avenue and Fort George Hill (Bronx), Wilkens Mendoza, July 7, 2014; $1,100
Mendoza was arrested by the NYPD along with Remy Castro for flying a drone near the George Washington Bridge. Interestingly, the FAA enforcement action against Mendoza doesn't mention the George Washington Bridge flight and instead focuses on his flights in the Bronx. The FAA later sent Mendoza a letter withdrawing the fine.
Rupeka crashed his drone onto the New York capitol building. He had a history of run-ins with the police which are worth reading about.Portside Apartments, East Boston, Jose Paderes, August 30, 2015; $1,100
The FAA says Paderes flew his DJI Inspire One too close to Logan International Airport. The investigation doesn't mention any incident or crash.Manhattan, New York, July 7, 2014, Remy Castro; $1,600
Castro flew his Phantom II near the George Washington Bridge in New York City. A police helicopter chased after it. The FAA said the helicopter "was required to perform evasive maneuvers in order to avoid a collision with the aircraft," but air traffic control records found that the NYPD lied about what happened. He was fined $1,600 but it was later reduced to $800.Eddelman landed his DJI Phantom II on the roof of AT&T stadium (where the Cowboys play). He landed it on the roof, and then tried to recover it with a second drone, which he also flew above the Texas Rangers stadium while there were spectators present. He was fined $2,200 but settled for $1,000.290 Central Avenue, Brooklyn, Isaac Rosa, September 17, 2014; $2,200
Rosa flew near an NYPD helicopter, the FAA says he was within 50 feet of the helicopter at 750 feet. The NYPD was using the helicopter to look for a missing person and had to perform an evasive maneuver. He was fined $2,200 but the case was settled for $1,555.
Zablidowski flew his DJI Phantom into several buildings on 40th and 41st street, eventually landing on the ground 20 feet from a person. His case was settled for $400. Zablidowski was the first hobbyist ever fined for flying a drone.Citi Field, Henry Wolters, May 6, 2015; $2,200
Wolters flew a drone above Citi Field during a Mets game where approximately 12,000 people were in attendance.Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Queens, Daniel Verley, September 3, 2015; $2,200
Verley flew his drone above the US Open, where about 200 people were watching. The drone crashed 70 feet from the tennis court. The FAA settled for $1,320.Washington DC, (Polo Fields in West Potomac Park), Damian Dizard, March 25, 2015; $3,300
Dizard flew within the Washington DC Flight Restricted Zone, encompasses a 30-mile radius surrounding DC and makes flying all drones illegal without special permission. This is one of the few cases in which nothing bad seemed to happen—no crash was reported. He was fined $3,300 but later had it reduced to $1,100.West Potomac Park, Washington DC, Monica Singleton, March 25, 2015; $3,300
Singleton appears to have been flying with Damian Dizard.Lafayette Park, Washington DC, Ryan MacDonald, May 14, 2015; $4,400
MacDonald flew in Lafayette Park, which is near the White House. The FAA says that the secret service "cleared the entire north side of the White House of people … due to your operation of the aircraft." MacDonald appears to have paid his $4,400 fine.
Usman notoriously crashed his drone into a tree on the White House lawn, causing a national conversation on drone safety and White House security. It was later reported that Usman was a government employee at the time and was also allegedly drunk during his flight. The FAA fined him $5,500.University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Raphael Pirker, April 13, 2012; $10,000
This was the first drone fine case in the United States and was the subject of a long, ongoing court battle. Pirker eventually settled for $1,100.441 East Fordham Road, Bronx NY, Xizmo Media Productions, May 16, 2015; $18,700
Xizmo was hired by Fordham University to shoot footage of its 2015 commencement ceremony. The FAA says that because Xizmo's drone wasn't registered, flew in a reckless manner, and also pulled out several other regulations that are normally used for manned aircraft. Xizmo eventually settled with the FAA for $5,000 and is paying $222.22 to the FAA every month through June 2017.All over Manhattan, SkyPan; $1.9 Million
This is the largest drone fine ever levied. According to the FAA, SkyPan repeatedly flew near high rises in restricted airspace. Read more about the fine and the investigation that led to it here. This case is ongoing.Coney Island Boardwalk, David Quinones, July 4, 2015; Surrendered Pilot's license
Quinones was hired by a company called Skycam to fly a drone over the Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. Quinones, a commercial pilot of manned aircraft, had his pilot's license suspended for 90 days and was required to surrender his pilot's certificate during the suspension. The FAA said it would fine him $1,100 per day that he refused to surrender it.FAA Drone Fines