Drone pilots could get jail time, fine for violating new L.A. ordinance

Camera drone

A drone with a camera is used to shoot scenes for a television show in Santa Clarita in September. The L.A. City Council approved an ordinance Wednesday that criminalizes violating FAA drone regulations.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Flying a drone too high, too close to people or at an airport in Los Angeles could soon land you six months in jail and a hefty fine.

In a unanimous vote Wednesday, the L.A. City Council approved an ordinance that mirrors the Federal Aviation Administration’s civilian drone regulations and makes it a misdemeanor to violate them.

A violation, which includes flying more than 500 feet above the ground, within five miles of an airport without permission or within 25 feet of another person, could be punished with up to $1,000 in fines and six months in jail, according to the city’s municipal code.

The law makes sure “we have the rules to enforce the [FAA] guidelines here in L.A.,” said Councilman Mitch Englander, who proposed the ordinance with Councilman Nury Martinez and Council President Herb Wesson.


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Until now, violating the FAA regulations could result only in a fine and perhaps losing the drone or permission to fly one. The only way police could go after drone pilots in L.A. was by using existing laws and hoping they hold up with prosecutors and possibly a jury.

Last month, the city attorney’s office charged a man with obstructing police by flying a drone close to an LAPD helicopter. In prior incidents, officers have threatened drone pilots with arrest for trespassing for flying them over certain areas, like a police station parking lot.

Councilman Mike Bonin told the council on Wednesday that residents in Mar Vista have been complaining about drones buzzing over their backyards at night. The drones are a “huge nuisance in our neighborhoods,” he said.


A drone incident captured on video last year -- when a pilot flew a drone over a raucous crowd outside Staples Center after the Kings won the Stanley Cup -- is now illegal.

The new law will take effect about 40 days after Mayor Eric Garcetti signs it.

Wednesday’s action comes just two weeks after Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed three pieces of legislation that specifically addressed drone restrictions.

One bill would have provided steep penalties for flying a civilian drone above a wildfire and interfering with firefighting aircraft. Another would have prohibited flying a drone above a K-12 school and taking pictures of students. The third would have outlawed flying them over prisons or jails.

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