Two Los Angeles men will be the first to be charged with criminal counts under the new city regulation that restricts drone operation. Michael Ponce and Arvel Chappell, 20 and 35 respectively, were flying their drones near both the airport and the hospital heliport in Los Angeles.
The criminal counts are for two separate instances where they flew their drones within five miles of the airport and operated their device above the 400 feet. Neither operators had permission from the airport and illegally operated their drones above the maximum flight level. Plus, Chappell had one additional count against him for operating a drone during nightfall.
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The incidents happened on December 9, 2015, and December 12, 2015. On the 9th, an LAPD airship had allegedly spotted a drone, which Ponce was operating, within three miles of several hospital heliports. Ponce was operating the drone at above the 400 feet in Griffith Park. Police cited Ponce after seizing the drone.
On December 12, Chappell was flying his drone a quarter-mile out of Hooper Heliport, which is located in downtown Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Police Department had an air unit that had to change its landing path allegedly due to Chappell’s drone.
If either Ponce or Chappell will be convicted, they could face a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail.
City Ruling Declares Drone Flying as a Misdemeanor
Los Angeles is tired of dealing with drones that fly illegally, so the new ruling has officially declared that it is a misdemeanor to operate a drone more than 500 feet in the air, within five miles near an airport, and within 25 feet of another human being. If you are going to fly your drone within five miles near an airport, then you need to obtain permission from an airport traffic control.
The only difference between the Los Angeles ruling and the Federal Aviation Administration regulations is that imprisonment is an option for penalty when an individual is being cited. Prior to adding imprisonment as possible consequence, operators would either just receive fines, lose permission to fly their drones, or lose their drones completely through confiscation. Drone operators who have broken the federal rules have been persecuted under the existing laws that included flying over certain areas, blocking police activity, and trespassing on property.
Previous Laws Against Misbehaving Drones
Lawmakers have repeatedly tried to pass different bills that deal with operators who illegally and recklessly fly their devices. Reckless in terms of drones is considered flying them anywhere dangerous or where they can cause harm. For instance, an LAPD helicopter had a drone come within 50 feet of it, which caused them to take evasive measures. During California wildfire season, multiple drone operators flew their drones into the designated restricted zones. This caused firefighting planes to divert their routes, resulting in delays.
All legislative attempts have failed so far, even the one bill that would exonerate emergency workers for disabling drones in emergency situations. No-fly zones for drones were also over turned, which meant that until the new ruling, all zones were still accessible for drone operators. But this new ruling had a unanimous vote by the city.
Feuer said that Ponce and Chappell won’t be the last to be charged since “we’ll continue to use our new city law to hold drone operators accountable and keep our residents safe.”