Man Facing Fine of $20,000 After Losing Control of Drone That Landed Near Active Airport Runway

A California man is facing a fine to the tune of nearly $20,000, after his drone landed near a runway at Las Vegas’ main airport. He claims he was just trying to take a picture, when his DJI Phantom 3 “started acting all weird” and took off of its own accord.  

Reuben Burciaga was flying his drone over the Las Vegas strip in June 2018, trying to photograph the High Roller Observation Wheel, according to FOX station KVVU. Beginning at Caesars Palace, Burciaga said it wasn’t long before the drone lost its GPS connection and took on a flight path of its own. He claims to have undertaken several hundred drone flights before with no issue. After drifting for two miles, it landed by the runway at McCarran International Airport.

Footage from the drone’s flight has now been released in KVVU’s news report. Found by airport workers, the drone was passed to the FAA, who later identified Burciaga as the pilot through its registration number.

In April of this year, the FAA returned the drone, accompanied by a $14,700 fine. Now, late fees have been accrued due to a failure to respond to the FAA’s letters and has seen that number increase to almost $20,000. KVVU reports that although Burciaga accepts responsibility for the incident, he feels a fine of $1,000 - $3,000 would have been more appropriate.

The US Treasury Department is taking charge of the money owed and will “pay” the fine out of any money owed to Burciaga by the government, including his income tax returns.

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18 Comments

Sucks to be that guy, but time to pay.

Michael Kormos's picture

Most of Las Vegas strip is under class B airspace. He shouldn’t have been flying his drone there in the first place.

"...when his DJI Phantom 3 “started acting all weird” and took off of its own accord. "

Otherwise known as,

"It's coming right for us!"
-Uncle Jimbo

(https://southpark.cc.com/clips/149674/its-coming-right-for-us)

Leigh Miller's picture

Ahh the good old days....seeing a Phantom hovering off the penthouse floors of my condo.

Then the YT idiots arrived on the scene.

Just me's picture

Claiming that he lost control...

At least he got his drone back!

Jerome Brill's picture

Honestly you have to look at the end results, no one was hurt, not one was effected. 20k is too much, regardless if you want to set an example. The amount doesn't persuade as a whole. 5k charge and be done with it or take the drone. Honestly taking the drone would be enough in most cases unless you can say they did more actual harm you can actually quantify without making making up a bunch of bs. What if's don't count.

That's my two cents.

Really, and you would still fly on the strip? I think not, so it worked.

Steven Magner's picture

$20k is a lot more than $5k. Think about the idiots that have bachelor parties in Vegas and agree to split the bill/fine... come on man.

The end result is not his “safe flight” of having the drone not hit anything. It’s to convince others, oh that’s really f’n stupid.

Leigh Miller's picture

It's a deterrent. Like the three strikes law...intended to make you think at least "twice" about your offending behaviour.

Michael Holst's picture

In cases like this you don't have to consider the end result IMO. You consider the potential worst case outcome. The potential harm this could have caused amounts to a cost WAY over $20K. The rules seem pretty simple so I don't really feel bad for anyone who's risking it to get the shot.

Michael Jin's picture

Why do I not believe him?

Lee Christiansen's picture

Is it possible to "hijack" someone's operating frequency? Would this be part of his defence?

He's in Cali. Might be instead, part of his defense.

Rob Mitchell's picture

Can't pay the fine, don't do the crime.

Steve de Vet's picture

On his youtube he states "My drone flew away after loosing GPS, drifting 4 miles away landing at McCarren airport when trump was in town and drone was intercepted by secret service.even after showing it was a system failure i was still fined 15,000!!!"

When the president is anywhere, there is an automatic no-fly-zone up to 30 miles around him. I'm also guessing that most of Las Vegas is a no fly zone, with it being so crowded, having the airport nearby and the amount of helicopters flying around in the airspace. I have no idea how he even got it into the air...most DJI drones would refuse to go into the air in such areas as the no-fly zones are updated constantly.

it just seems... dodgy..

Flying over a city and crowded areas is already not allowed.
Flying near all those tall buildings is already not the smartest thing you can do for your signal and also.. not allowed.
Then he flies over the strip and flies above 400ft, both not allowed... And it just "happens" to land right next to an active runway, what are the chances of that happening?
then,"the FAA didn't find the owner with the registration number, which was labeled incorrectly".. what?! isn't that a violation in itself already? not registering/labelling it properly?
If it was just the one violation, then fair enough, but it's a whole list (9 according to the letter) He says he'd rather have a 1000-3000 fine, well.. he sort of did... but he got that 1-3k per violation.

If a DJI drone loses GPS it will switch to ATTI mode right? Meaning you should still be able to control the drone, but it will just have no clue where it is position-wise. So it can't "fly home" on its own or hold a certain position.
Either it lost signal, and it would have found its way to the "home point", or it lost GPS and the drone should still have been controllable in an alternative mode. A combination of both seems, unlikely.. not impossible. but unlikely.
But since it took off from a parking structure (filled with metal and rebar) the GPS and compass got upset pretty quick after taking off.. in a quote on a different forum he says that the home point didn't even get selected on his location because of the parking garage interference. So the GPS was wonky at the start already.

$20K seems fair for all of these transgressions.

The FAA is not interested in listening to hundreds or thousands of excuses like "my drone lost its GPS connection".

A big problem for wildland firefighters in California is the hobby drones flying into the fire zones and interfering with the emergency aircraft.