Jason Koebler of Motherboard made good use of FOIA and put together some useful information in a series of articles that are worth reading in detail:
Here, he reports on a list of every drone pilot that has ever been fined by the FAA:
The documents the FAA sent me show that the fine for flying a drone recklessly vary wildly: Some hobbyists have settled with the FAA for as little as $400, while others, such as the man who crashed his drone on the White House lawn, have paid as much as $5,500.
More commonly, the FAA fines people between $1,100 and $2,200 and, if it receives pushback, offers to settle for much less. Commercial operators have been fined as much as $1.9 million.
Among the interesting facts he reports is that the vast majority of fines are coming from the FAA’s Eastern Regional office. What is it about the East Coast that makes it special? Tall buildings? More media attention?
I don’t want to detract from the excellent work, here, so go and read the whole thing.
Another article reports on the only licensed manned aircraft pilot in America who has had his license suspended (not revoked – the headline editor apparently doesn’t know the difference) for flying a drone. Incredible.
The third article notes that the FAA has yet to fine anyone for flying commercially. This may seem surprising, but it’s really not. Koebler asked a former FAA counsel:
Loretta Alkalay, who was in charge of the FAA’s legal operations for the eastern region for more than 20 years, told me that the documents I showed her suggest the FAA doesn’t think it has legal standing to win a case that doesn’t involve reckless flight.
“I think it’s pretty obvious the FAA doesn’t think it can win a case on this whole commercial issue, which is why they haven’t really pushed it,” Alkalay told me.
That is probably why the FAA seems to treat FAR 91.13 as a catch-all for seeking fines against drone operators, but only sends cease and desist and educational letters to persons who are operating commercially without a Section 333.