LAPD Warning Against Hiring Unmanned Aircraft Operators for Aerial Photography

It seems that California is just about the only State that notices commercial UAS use is still unregulated in the USA. Last year we had the film commission taking a stand now this.

Sounds to me as the film folks are trying to lock out the competition here. Interesting to see that the L.A.P.D. is now the enforcement arm of the FAA. Definitely an odd way to go about things for the FAA as the edict from February 13, 2007 is shaky at best.


Los Angeles authorities have asked C.A.R. to communicate this warning to REALTORS® who hire unmanned aircraft operators to take aerial photographs for marketing high-end properties. Using these devices (also known as drones) for flight in the air with no onboard pilot may violate, among other things, the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) policy on unmanned aircrafts, and Los Angeles’s local ordinance requiring permits for filming commercial motion pictures and still photographs.

The Los Angeles Police Department’s (LAPD) investigation has apparently revealed that aerial photos where unmanned aircraft were observed have appeared on certain real estate sales websites. According to FilmL.A., the LAPD Air Division has issued this warning as it intends to prosecute violators in the near future. FilmL.A. is a public benefit company created by the City and County of Los Angeles to manage film permit activity and related issues.

Under the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)’s current policy, no one can operate an unmanned aircraft in the National Airspace System without specific authority. Operators who wish to fly an unmanned aircraft for civil use must obtain an FAA experimental airworthiness certificate, which will not be issued to an unmanned aircraft used for compensation or hire. Although the FAA allows hobbyists to fly model airplanes for recreational purposes under specific guidelines, that authority does not extend to operators flying unmanned aircraft for business purposes. More information is available from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Notice on Unmanned Aircraft Operations and the FAA’s policy.

  18 comments for “LAPD Warning Against Hiring Unmanned Aircraft Operators for Aerial Photography

  1. Rory
    25 January 2012 at 12:02 pm

    Its all about control and money….wait till Tom Cruise backyard shoes up on ETV curtsey of a “drone” and you will not be able to fly a paper plane in Hollywood without a permit.

  2. Antoine Martin
    25 January 2012 at 2:53 pm

    This is in direct rapport with the realtor that was proudly using RC helis to film his high-end SoCal properties for sale. There was a news on it, and the FAA probably promptly called LAPD to stop that. It is extremely hard for the FAA to enforce illegal UAV flights, so they have to rely on local law enforcement – whether it’s legal or not.

    As Pat said, anyone showing off their video on the web is at risk as the FAA will make an example of those. I wonder if the meat packing plant is next. What happened to Newscorp and his Oklahoma news coverage of tornadoes?

  3. Antoine Martin
    25 January 2012 at 5:54 pm

    For those interested in what happened over the last 6 months with this story, see

  4. Brandon
    26 January 2012 at 3:19 am

    What if someone wants to take the pictures and give them free to the realtors, then what? Maybe having your name as credit in the picture is well enough for some people who are proud of their art.

    What I get from the article is its all about cost, not the fact a camera was suspended in the air to film a home.

    • 26 January 2012 at 1:32 pm

      Thats still valuable consideration Brandon, its just illegal and that’s that.

    • Pistolpete
      8 February 2012 at 1:25 am

      The real issue is not cost, it’s understanding of what is on the books. As long as you fly your craft under 400 feet, you are outside of FAA jursidiction. The permit issue is a whole other matter but again, permitting for movies is not an LAPD issue. The only way the LAPD has any stake in the matter is if a movie company is filming somewhere, they don’t have permits, they are asked to leave, and they don’t. Other than that, the LAPD has no jurisdiction over civil matters. Also, by the standard they espouse, every videographer and photographer who ever does any shooting for pay would have to get a film permit. That is certainly not happening and is not enforced.

  5. Brandon
    26 January 2012 at 3:21 am

    even though the final product is for sale, what if the filmer wasn’t compensated?

  6. 26 January 2012 at 1:19 pm

    My entire family are military, police or both. I have not vested interst in the LAPD, but why would the LAPD care about UAS/UAV utilization? They use it! The big UAV companies “make a profit” selling the platforms to law enforcement. I agree w/ Rory…it’s about money. Perhaps because UAS use is unregulated, the FAA may have “suggested”, through whatever channels, that the LAPD should take such actions. To what end? Because honest, working American citizens decided to start a business using UAS in aerial imaging and someone up higher is “upset” because they did not get their “cut”. I thought it was in the best interest of this country to put people to work. Why can’t the average “joe” make a buck using UAS for whatever? He or she pays taxes on their profits. LArger industries do it. What happened to promoting small businees so that those respective businesses can flourish? Once again, larger industries and the governement are trying to put their hands in our wallets even further than taxes.

  7. Txema
    26 January 2012 at 3:43 pm

    Guys, what “Joe” can do is easy: give the pictures for free and ask for 1000USD for the envelope… works fine with match tickets in Spain, where reselling them is forbidden. :-)
    I don’t think FAA has a department for fraudulent envelope sales… or at least I hope they haven’t!!!

  8. Tom Hanan
    26 January 2012 at 6:14 pm


    I think we need a lot more information than “LAPD puts UAV operators on notice”.

    What does put on notice mean?
    What is the LAPD enforcement policy?

    The LAPD clearly prosecutes airspace issues as it pertains to police “obstruction”, which is well within their “enforcement” powers. They also “refer” evidence of federal airspace violations to the FAA.

    Enforcement of federal airspace violations are however outside their authority unless specifically provided to them, and supervised by a federal agency such as the FAA or FBI.

    This is typically preceded by a published LAPD policy which describes and assigns specific referral or enforcement authority.

    I looked on their site and could not find one specifically for UAV or RC aircraft.

    Does LAPD have a “privacy and or stalking” “enforcement” policy that covers UAV and or RC aircraft?

    That would cover 98% of the reasons I have seen for the LAPD’s recent pronouncements about putting UAV on notice. They might also “refer” “evidence” in parallel to the FAA/FBI for “Enforcement” as being in violation of Federal “RC” or “Commercial” UAS airspace Laws.

    This discussion is at the core of our broad freedoms of speech vs our individual privacy. When and where an individual has an expectation of privacy, and who owns the copyrights to publication, are the leading question of our age.

    Can I copyright, or do I inherently own a copyright, to my persona that gives me the “exclusive” right to control its commercial exploitation?

    Are those copyrights limited to “commercial” activities or do I have the right to “control” the exploitation of that persona as a form of free speech? Where are the “enforcable” boundaries of free speech.

    These are all questions that are very much in flux morally and legally.

    Best Regards,
    Tom Hanan

  9. 27 January 2012 at 6:15 am
  10. 27 January 2012 at 1:55 pm

    Here’s an idea. I’m in the Infantry, but our aviation rotorcraft operators work in conjunction with UAS. Though they’re civilian, pilots should be able to work within the same airspace as UAS, What’s the max celing UAS can function in with regard to full size aircraft? Why can’t a UAS operator work with a radio with communication to local airports and/or aircraft? It deconflicts everyone’s location. I’ve been on the ground in Iraq, worked with UAS in the air as well as manned aircraft…all at the same time. It’s simple communication

  11. 27 January 2012 at 2:40 pm

    FAA has been reluctant to incorporate anything from OCONUS operations, could be cause it make sense??

  12. 29 January 2012 at 12:49 am

    What a crock. This is clearly sour grapes because the FAA shutdown their Skyseer project… or at least they shut down the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department Skyseer project. Mere coincidence? I expected a lot more from such a respected law enforcement agency then to go after aerial photographers out of spite.

  13. Mike Williams
    29 January 2012 at 2:01 am

    Don’t worry about this. The LAPD does not “procecute” cases, the District Attorney of Los Angeles County does. If I were in LA, I would formally serve notice, from counsel, that the LAPD does not regulate the airspace over LA and that it is to cease and desist with these specious warnings. Just a thought but if I were in LA, that’s what I’d do.

  14. Pistolpete
    8 February 2012 at 1:20 am

    There are several point that the LAPD and the article miss. First off, the LAPD has no legal authority regulating airspace. That is the FAA’s job. Second, under 400 feet, the FAA has no authority. Anything flown below that altitude is not their jurisdiction. From the shots from the video taken of those houses, those copters were flow well below that limit. Finally, I’m not sure about the specifics on permitting and while they might need to have them technically speaking, I doubt most photographers and videographers ever get permits. By that standard, anyone who does any professional photography or videography, like a wedding videographer, or a photography company that shoots pictures for a school yearbook, need film permits. I would venture to guess if it is on or above private property, and is below the 400 feet limit, and the person flying it is on that property and has permission of the owner, there is no legal case. This all sounds more like public officials who don’t know anything about anything opening their mouths’ before they do research.

    • Pistolpete
      8 February 2012 at 1:22 am

      I should note there is an obvious restriction when it comes to being within a certain distance of sensitive areas like government installations, and airports, which are part of the FAA jurisdiction. I believe you need to be minimum 2 miles away from an airport, and below 400 feet.

      • Pistolpete
        9 February 2012 at 1:36 am

        I actually will have to rescind my statement about the FAA authority. According to the FAA rules, they have authority of everything from right off the ground, or so they claim.

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