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Fly-Away drone lands at Las Vegas airport. Pilot Fined $14,700.

I like to share stories of what not to do as a way to help our student Drone Pilots learn from other UAS pilot’s mistakes and misdeeds. This article is an excellent example of what not to do. And why the rules to fly drones are so important to follow.

Drone fly away happens in Vegas. Fine doesn't stay in Vegas. Follows California pilot all the way home.
Drone flies away and lands on McCarren International Airport. Pilot is fined $14,700.

A pilot decided to fly his drone along the Las Vegas Strip. He wanted to capture an aerial photo of the High Roller Observational Ferris Wheel. Moments after his DJI Phantom drone took off from the parking area of Caesar’s Palace, the UAS pilot reported losing control of the drone. The drone flew to over 450 feet above the Las Vegas Strip. The aircraft eventually landed two miles away next to an active runway at McCarren International Airport.

The area that he launched and flew the drone is in Class B airspace. All Drone Pilots are required to know that it is illegal to fly a drone near an airport in controlled airspace without the proper permission. The FAA has authorized several service providers to provide instant approval to fly in controlled airspace near airports. This system is called the FAA LAANC system (Low Altitude Airspace Notification Capability). I wrote about LAANC in an earlier article (click here). A drone pilot may also use the FAA DroneZone for airspace approvals. Just be aware that submitting approvals online are not instantly approved in real time. So LAANC is usually favorable for real time approvals.

Airport employees recovered the drone and turned it over to the authorities. The FAA investigated and identified the Drone Pilot. The FAA made several attempts to contact the offender. The FAA then sent a letter to the drone pilot listing the violations. Some of the rules he broke include:

· 107.19 (c) The remote pilot in command must ensure that the small unmanned aircraft will pose no undue hazard to other people, other aircraft, or other property in the event of a loss of control of the small unmanned aircraft for any reason.

· 107.19 (d) The remote pilot in command must ensure that the small UAS operation complies with all applicable regulations of this chapter.

· 107.23 (a) Operate a small unmanned aircraft system in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another;

· 107.39 No person may operate a small unmanned aircraft over a human being.

· § 107.41 No person may operate a small unmanned aircraft in Class B, Class C, or Class D airspace or within the lateral boundaries of the surface area of Class E airspace designated for an airport unless that person has prior authorization from Air Traffic Control (ATC).

Taking chances is foolish. The odds caught up with this drone pilot flying illegally in airspace that is protected for manned aircraft. Drone flew out of control and landed near active runway. Drone Pilot fined $14,700 by the FAA.
Controlled airspace around McCarren International Airport in Las Vegas where drone pilot lost control.

Screenshot of the FAA UAS facility Maps showing the Ferris Wheel location that the drone pilot wanted to get an aerial photo. You can see how close he is to McCarren International Airport, and that it is airspace controlled by Air Traffic Control. He should have gotten ATC authorization to fly before he launched his drone.

The drone pilot admits that he broke the rules and should be fined. His illegal drone flight quickly went from bad to worse. I doubt he expected anything to go wrong. He did not expect the aircraft to fly-away. This made things much worse as the drone was out of control in the vicinity of aircraft full of passengers. He is lucky. It could have been a disaster if his drone had hit an aircraft. To see the Fox 5, KVVU TV, interview with the pilot, click here.

Unexpected things happen all the time while flying drones. It is important to always follow the rules when flying drones. It is risky and foolish to break the rules. I have pilots ask me all the time about flying at a low altitude in controlled airspace without having ATC approval. Even if you are just making a low-level flight to inspect a roof or get real estate photos, know that the rules are there for a reason. If you are like this drone pilot, and have taken chances before, realize that the odds may eventually catch up.

It's up to all pilots to fly safely and responsibly.

About Carolina Drone Academy

Carolina Drone Academy specializes in providing premier drone pilot training with in-person drone training courses and hands-on drone pilot flight training. We have worked clients in most commercial sectors including the US Military, law enforcement, media and advertising companies, colleges, engineering, construction, and other government agencies. Please visit for the latest course offerings including in-person FAA 107 exam preparation classes, hands-on drone pilot flight training along with other specialized drone solutions.


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