Warning from the LAPD--do not use UAVs commercially!

Please see this warning from the Los Angeles Police Department, sent to the California Association of Realtors. Discussion on helifreak here.  More background and discussion here. I'll be talking to the NYT about this tomorrow. 

Short form: Amateur UAV use within the usual FAA guidelines (under 400ft, within visual line-of-sight, away from built-up-areas) is allowed, as always. But commercial use requires a COA, which you're not going to get. So there's nothing new here, but it's a reminder that the guidelines will be enforced.

LAPD Warning Against Hiring Unmanned Aircraft Operators for Aerial Photos

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. 

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Comment by Jack Crossfire on January 25, 2012 at 12:12pm

Not unlike the scandal years ago about LA banning all RC flights anywhere except a regulated field.

Comment by Cliff-E on January 25, 2012 at 12:22pm

This has been a ongoing issue in LA since last March. Theories from the film unions upset that drones are taking away their business to how CAR/the city taxes photographers (and now new aerial photographers) to paparazzi using drones in Beverly Hills are concerns by those at the seat of control (who's in control and gets 'the money' is a big deal in LA).

I guess one of the opposing groups finally got LAPD to do something about it.. as the FAA has been lax at enforcing the commmerial use (unless is poses serious threats).

Comment by Dustin on January 25, 2012 at 6:25pm

So it sounds like the short term solution to stay legal is to run a fishing line from me to my copter.  I can do that.

Comment by Earl on January 25, 2012 at 6:50pm

Can we have a legal definition of 'tethered' ? Just a line to the ground being dragged by the arducopter ? How strong a line ?


Comment by Mark Colwell on January 25, 2012 at 8:32pm

LA CO Sheriff is grounded too.

Comment by Earl on January 25, 2012 at 9:45pm

If I use common scene WHY can't I make money taking pictures ? Some Other greedy bastard saying I can't ?


Comment by Michael Pursifull on January 26, 2012 at 11:03am

IANAL, but I do get a little irritated at narrow-minded rule enforcers who overstep their remit.

Rules are rules. I think we should all follow them, each according to our local laws, or get them changed in appropriate ways. However, it seems to me that there are no laws against inviting private hobbyists to film your property. There are also no laws or regulations about editing footage provided by private hobbyists and subsequently publishing that footage on the Internet, for any purpose, so long as the content did not violate other laws. 

While it is true that the hobbyist who is invited to overfly your personal property and film those flights cannot do so in a commercial capacity, there are no restrictions on what you can do with that media afterwards. If I did not dislike Los Angeles with such a passion, I would be very tempted to spend several months of my time, just for the fun of it, flying and filming for my enjoyment, over private property in that city. 

I might not have the right to make money on it, but I do have the right to fly, and they do have the right to publish. A right un-exercised is a right lost. And I get very prickly about my rights. Unfortunately for these folks, I dislike Los Angeles more. 

Comment by Gareth Rens on January 26, 2012 at 5:50pm

Soon you'll need a permit to take a sh*t. And remember to get a receipt for tax purposes...

Comment by Michael Evans on January 26, 2012 at 6:08pm

Time to buy 400 feat of fishing line. This is why allot of guys use masts now.

Why would the LAPD care or even know about this?  Someone is definitively pissed off that they are loosing business and possibly slipping them some green. 

Where do you draw the line of commercial vs a handyman type service? What if your using it as supplemental income? 

Comment by Chris Gough on January 26, 2012 at 6:14pm

@Gary, @Mark, wrt STANAG 4586 / MavLink

It might be easiest if the VSM was an adapter component piping MavLink in/out of one interface, maintaining state and doing translations internally, and piping STANAG 4586 (or paparazzi, openpilot, whatever) on it's other interface. Such a VSM could run entirely on the ground segment, or in the airframe if you have the room, either way totally decoupled from the autopilot. That's the design approach advocated[1] by http://www.ndia.org/ for military stuff, but it applies just the same to open source civillian technology.

It's no easy task, but doing it on a vehicle specific (airframe, flightplan, messaging configuration) basis is a lot easier than trying to do it on a per-protocol basis. Is it the case that, for STANAG compliance, the VSM has to run in the airframe? I don't know enough about it (am curious, but not sufficiently curious to pay for a copy of the STANAG).

Interoperability between open source UAVs of different platforms would be a good thing, not just for compliance with potential future regulation, but also just generally lowering the cost of collaboration between communities.

[1] http://www.ndia.org/Divisions/Divisions/Robotics/Documents/Content/...


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