If you want to fly your drone on the Las Vegas strip, you need to secure approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) first. Since the popular tourist destination is in controlled airspace, and its airport, McCarran International does not participate in Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC), acquiring a waiver from the FAA, as a Part 107-certified commercial pilot, is mandatory.
In June 2018, California tourist Reuben Burciaga learned this the hard way. He was attempting to capture an aerial perspective of the High Roller Observation Wheel at the LINQ with his drone. That’s when things went horribly wrong. ‘I went up to the parking structure at Caesars Palace and had no problem with GPS,’ Burciaga tells FOX 5 KVVU News. ‘It started acting weird and just took off.’
Burciaga’s drone flew two miles away from its takeoff point, at an altitude of slightly above 450 feet, and landed a few feet away from an active runway at McCarran. Employees discovered the drone and handed it over to the local police. After the FAA conducted an extensive investigation, due to an inaccurate registration number, they were able to identify Burciaga as the drone’s owner. The government agency followed up with a letter outlining his numerous violations, including flying in controlled airspace without authorization and fined him $14,700.
Flying a drone in congested areas poses serious risks. Signal loss caused by magnetic interference is the top cause of fly-aways. It’s pretty clear that Burciaga didn’t properly calibrate the drone’s compass before taking off in a parking structure. If he did calibrate it where he took off, the significant amount of rebar in the parking structure would certainly cause a compass error. If Burciaga already conducted hundreds of flights, like he claims in the video above, he should have known this would happen.
‘I don’t have the money to fight it, and I wouldn’t even have an idea how to fight it,’ Burciaga said. ‘That’s half of my year’s paycheck for trying to take a picture.’
Besides taking the time to perform basic pre-flight safety measures, he also avoided multiple letters from the FAA along with his chance to appeal. As a result, his fine has been bumped up to nearly $20,000. ‘I don’t have the money to fight it, and I wouldn’t even have an idea how to fight it,’ Burciaga said. ‘That’s half of my year’s paycheck for trying to take a picture.’ Appealing the charges is something he could have done for free.
The new amount owed has been turned over to the U.S. Treasury Department. They will deduct the amount from his future tax returns. Burciaga believes the fine is far too harsh, stating an amount between $1,000 – $3,000 would have been more appropriate. The FAA doesn’t seem to agree. ‘This was really a very serious incident, which is why we imposed such a large fine,’ said spokesperson Ian Gregor. ‘In this situation, the pilot committed a litany of serious violations and really flew the drone carelessly and recklessly.’
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