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Drone hobbyist fined whopping $182,000 by FAA for breaking rules

By Chuck Woodbury
EDITOR

I got angry at first when I read about this outrageous fine. How ridiculous! A guy who flew a drone for pleasure (well, maybe not just pleasure) broke some FAA rules and ended up with a ridiculous $182,000 fine. But after a little research, I realized why the FAA went after this fellow, and understood that he was likely asking for it.

The story goes that in early November, a Philadelphia man named Mikey, who flies a drone without a professional license, received 123 notices of infractions from the FAA, $1,500 for each one. The total amount in civil penalties added up to $182,004. The violations were related to drone videos he live-streamed on YouTube from December 2019 to this past August.

Mikey operates a YouTube channel called PhillyDroneLife.

Popular YouTube attorney Steve Lehto posted a video about Mikey’s misfortune, which you can watch here. This is where I learned about this.

The FAA issued the fines for various infractions such as flying over 400 feet, reckless flying, flying in the rain, fog, and in strong winds. Mikey contacted lawyers who told him it might take $50,000 to $100,000 for him to fight the charges in court.

Watch Lehto’s video to learn more, but here is why he believes Mikey was fined. It was because he streamed the videos live, in which it was documented when, exactly, the flights were taken, the elevation and all other details. Had he instead, for example, posted recorded videos of drone flights without flight data visible, the FAA would not know conclusively when the flights were made. It could have been years earlier, long after the statute of limitations for charging Mikey with a crime had expired. And even if the videos showed the date of the flight, if enough time had passed and the statute of limitations had passed, the FAA would have no power to fine him.

Interestingly, the FAA did not impose fines on any of Mikey’s flights that were not live streamed, perhaps for those reasons.

But in Mikey’s live-streamed videos, the FAA could see exactly what day and time he flew, at what elevation, and warning messages that popped up on his monitor about illegal or dangerous flying conditions. Below is one frame of him flying high over downtown Philadelphia. As you can see, Mikey could plainly see in his monitor that he was flying 860 feet over the town, way higher than the 400-foot legal limit. The date of the flight is also visible because the video was live-streamed.

A week ago, on his YouTube channel, Mikey live-streamed a rambling, long-winded rant defending his actions, basically saying he was unaware of the laws he had broken, or making excuses. He cried, and thanked viewers who donated money in real time to support him.

I watched a recording of one of the videos he had live-streamed. Mikey, I quickly discovered, is a loud-mouthed, foul-mouthed guy — no crime there — but as I watched him fly his drone right over downtown Philadelphia at 1,000 feet or higher, in-between and around skyscrapers, I was horrified. I don’t know if a helicopter flying in the area could be seriously harmed if it struck a drone, but I concluded that no way should a drone hobbyist be allowed to fly in such an area. You can watch the video here. Don’t watch if foul language offends you.

My point? If you fly a drone, do it legally. If you live-stream be extra careful. There are gray areas with this new technology and it’s easy to cross the line. Mikey was way out of bounds and is paying a huge price. But the lesson here is that if you fly a drone, as many RVers do, follow the rules or risk having a fun hobby turn into a nightmare.

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Matt Weger
11 months ago

Sic semper.

Jim d'Griz
11 months ago

Throw the book at him. Too many “hobbiest” fly their hobby, proclaiming ignorance of the law which is no defense, putting many people at risk. Currently, the world is under lockdowns to “protect us from ourselves” (ahem, BS!!), so it is only fitting violators shall be prosecuted.

Hamaish
11 months ago

You can fly a drone 400 feet ABOVE the highest structure

Private
11 months ago

You can fly over 400 ft.. you’re allowed to fly 400 ft over an object/building.. if a building is 400 ft tall, you can fly 400 ft over it, 800 ft above the ground

Joey Triggers
11 months ago

You can buy a car but you can’t drive it without a license, why the hell should you be allowed to fly a drone without a license! Good for you – xxxx xxx! (Bleeped by Diane. No name-calling, please. This is a recording. 😯 )

JGinFL
11 months ago
Reply to  Joey Triggers

Diane, I’m sorry for the extra work you need to do to edit out the ‘rough’ language. I heard a long time ago that the people who feel they need to resort to bad language to make their point have a low IQ and a limited vocabulary. 😥

Admin
RV Staff(@rvstaff)
11 months ago
Reply to  JGinFL

Thanks, JGinFL. It’s not a problem, but some days are definitely busier in this regard than others. The comments don’t bother me, personally, but they have no place on RVtravel.com and so I try to keep things “civil” so as not to offend our readers who may not be as thick-skinned as I am (I’ve heard it all in my 74[!] years). And thank you for your explanation – I’ve heard that before. Have a good night, and stay healthy. 🙂 —Diane at RVtravel.com

Jeff
11 months ago

Time to move to Canada, eh?

Pamela Jobson
11 months ago

As an ex Air Traffic Controller in PHL, very dangerous and agree with charges. I could never understand how this has been going on for sometime with out FAA catching up with him

Hamaish
11 months ago
Reply to  Pamela Jobson

I guess they didn’t teach controllers drone laws… you can fly 400 feet above the highest structure

Giovanni P Costa
11 months ago
Reply to  Hamaish

Recreational flyers cannot go above 400′. What you are describing applies only to those holding a Part 107 license

Dan
11 months ago

Your an xxxxx Chuck. Instead of advocating for safe flying you are complaining. Way to try to skirt the rules by saying ‘do what you want just don’t film it and stream live’.
Regardless if it is on film or not, regardless of the video footage has overlays illegal flying is illegal. If you want the FAA to investigate and lay charges without this evidence they can and will. Low hanging fruit first.

You are a xxxxx and shouldn’t be representing the drone community with these views. (Bleeped by Diane. No name-calling, please.)

Last edited 11 months ago by RV Staff
Dave
11 months ago
Reply to  Dan

OH, OH, another future delete.

Admin
RV Staff(@rvstaff)
11 months ago
Reply to  Dave

Not a delete, just a bleep (for now). People just don’t get it. —Diane at RVtravel.com

Charlie
11 months ago

The fine is ridiculous just throw him in prison for a few years.

Bob P
11 months ago

As a judge told me ions ago back when I was 18, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse, it’s your responsibility to be informed”.

John Garrity
11 months ago

Drones,I have been dealing with drones for past 3 years.1.1 miles from Hopkins International Airport.
Over 400 feet every night,following my family everywhere just to let us know we are losers we stalk you because we can.
This person in Philadelphia fined over 100 grand.I know where these people live I dealt with secret service,CPD,Faa. Knowbody cares,I won’t even start with damage they have done to my family.they keep pushing
There is no legal help how far can a person be pushed. Waiting for one of these pilots to crash right into a jet landing at Hopkins.
Sooner or later.wheres the help.

WEB
11 months ago
Reply to  John Garrity

I heard an extra layer of tin foil will protect against drone surveillance. 😉

Ricky Barns
11 months ago

Gotta pay your FSDO tax so they look the other way like they do with commercial operators.

Bob DeMuth
11 months ago

The FAA is not an agency to mess with. As most pilots joke about but knowing the FAA plays no games. The pilot joke is that The FAA taught the IRS how to F*@k. Nuff said…..

Lucio
11 months ago

Didn’t know!!?? Please make this guy there example. Cross me once shame on me, cross me twice shame on you, cross the FAA 123 times, you’re out of here! Banned from owning a drone.

Jeff
11 months ago
Reply to  Lucio

The big question is when did you get the first fine notice. If he continued flying after the first notice, he deserves it.

BDQ
11 months ago
Reply to  Jeff

He continued after the 3rd notice.

Scott
11 months ago

this article, what he should have done to get away with breaking the law

321allsystemsgo
11 months ago

First off let me say that this guy is reckless and should know better. As a drone pilot who is 107 certified the altitude seems to be the least infraction of an infraction at all. As some of you will recall you are allowed to fly 400ft AGL but you can also fly 400ft above any structure or object within a 400 ft radius as well. Should he even be flying here? Probably not, I am in the Atlanta area and there are no helicopters flying in the city like that but I’ll state again this guy shouldn’t be flying.

John Koenig
11 months ago

“. I don’t know if a helicopter flying in the area could be seriously harmed if it struck a drone,”

YES! an aircraft ~ drone strike CAN do SIGNIFICANT damage to the aircraft; sometimes said damage can be catastrophic. You would be amazed how difficult it can be for a pilot to spot “traffic” (other aircraft nearby) even when given the general area in which to look for said “traffic”. Drones are much smaller than any aircraft and so, drones will be MUCH harder to see and avoid. The drone operator’s careless, unsafe and repeated illegal use of his drone DEFINITELY merits heavy fines (actually the INDIVIDUAL fines are not outrageous; it’s the CUMULATIVE amount that makes it seem shocking).

I don’t own a drone but, I understand that CLEAR WRITTEN WARNINGS ARE INCLUDED in the box with each drone. Shame on the operator if he chooses to to ignore those warnings.

John
11 months ago

Play stupid games, win stupid prizes!

DEL
11 months ago

There has been plenty of news coverage about the problems created with drones. Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

Last edited 11 months ago by RV Staff
JonnySmits
11 months ago

If he got a 107 he could legally fly above 400ft AGL at the right places.

Fyi someone was fined in socal for hitting a news helicopter, punch a hole in its tail boom.