Filmmaker Files Constitutional Challenge Against Los Angeles’ Drone Ordinance

Posted by Betsy Lillian on March 18, 2016 2 Comments
Categories : Featured, UAV Safety

Calling the ordinance unconstitutional under federal law, filmmaker Arvel Chappell III – represented by Terrence Jones at Ballard Spahr LLP – has filed a constitutional challenge in Los Angeles Superior Court to the city’s recently enacted ordinance regarding drone operations.

Last year, the Los Angeles City Council approved an ordinance that would place criminal charges on drone operators who violate Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety regulations for civilian UAS, including flying at least 5 miles away from an airport, keeping the UAS within the visual line of sight and under 400 feet in altitude, giving the right of way to other full-scale aircraft in airspace, and operating only in daylight hours.

According to his attorney, Chappell is the first person to be charged in a three-count criminal complaint by the city attorney’s office for violating the municipal ordinance. Jones says Chappell represents every constituency interested in the safe and reasonable regulation of drone use.

Earlier this year, Mike Feuer, Los Angeles city attorney, said Chappell was cited by police on Dec. 12 for allegedly operating a drone in excess of 400 feet and within ¼ mile of Hooper Heliport, the Los Angeles Police Department’s air support division base. Allegedly, said Feuer, an air unit coming in to land had to alter its path in order to avoid the UAS. In addition, the city attorney said Chappell was charged with one additional count of operating a drone during non-daylight hours.

During Chappell’s hearing on March 10, Jones challenged that the city’s ordinance is preempted by federal law, which has the sole governing authority to regulate aviation, including drones. At the time, the city attorney’s office stated it was not prepared to defend the ordinance and, therefore, sought and received a continuance of the hearing until March 28.

The ordinance’s original motion, presented last August by Councilmembers Herb J. Wesson and Mitchell Englander, said, “The operation of civil UAS is regulated by the FAA. However, an individual who operates a UAS in a reckless manner in the City of Los Angeles cannot be charged with any crime. An ordinance is needed to define the safe operation of model UAS, as well as to prohibit the unsafe use of both model and civil UAS in the city.”

Chappell, a film director, says he has been using his drone since 2014 – most recently, for his current project, “Compton: The Antwon Ross Story,” which tells the story of a young, African American male who turns to aviation as an escape from the harsh reality of his daily life in Compton.

In a blog on his website,, Chapell says, “I’m fighting these charges because they are patently against the spirit of everything I am, everything I believe in and also against the very theme of what I’m communicating in my film.”

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  1. Last year (2014) the San Diego County Supervisors passed an ordinance trying to regulate Certified Flight Instructors. I have written an extensive memorandum (sent to AOPA also) regarding why the Federal Government has exclusive authority over any activity in te air (pre-empting local regulation). I believe all aerial activity is exclusively regulated by the FAA. Although the FAA has adopted a 400 foot ceiling, actually the operator must be a certified pilot flying in any commercial activity, and must have FAA approval for operations of any UAS in controlled airspace (Los Angeles County etc.) and the UAS MUST HAVE an assigned “N” number from the FAA. Feel free to contact me for more information.

  2. Also, there is clearly a conflict in the 400 foot ceiling adopted rules and the FAA Regulations set forth in detail in the Federal register regarding airspace for aircraft. I believe the 400 foot rule is only a small part of the story, and not well implemented as it conflicts with National Airspace which sets forth various classes of airspace and the regulations for aircraft in each airspace eg: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Foxtrot, Echo, and Gulf, which airspaces cover the entire united states from the ground to space. I have been a pilot since 1977.

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