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, ComptonTakesFlight.com, 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.”