LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — One of the first people charged with illegally flying drones under a new Los Angeles ordinance did not enter a plea during his arraignment Monday.
Arvel Chappell, 35, is accused of flying a drone near the Los Angeles Police Department’s heliport in downtown Dec. 12, forcing a police helicopter coming in for a landing to change course to avoid a collision.
According to the City Attorney’s Office, Chappell was also flying his drone higher than 400 feet, using it at night and letting it fly within a quarter mile of the heliport without permission. What he did violated new drone law based on the local law, authorities said.
Chappell was surprised to learn of the charges against him, especially since he made a number of videos using his drone. “My entire career as filmmaker, as an aerospace engineer, I have only worked for the benefit of aviation and for the benefit of pilots. I take these charges very seriously,” he said.
His attorney, Terrence Jones, said Chappell was making a video about safety at the time of the incident.
Jones said there is no way to prove who was flying the drone since so many are in the air. “It’s not like an airplane where you can see Southwest Airlines on the side or see the tail number and know whose drone it is.”
“Safety is always the No. 1 concern for a pilot. We’re concerned about ourselves. We’re concerned about everybody else that’s in the air,” Chappell said.
His lawyer said he plans to challenge the ordinance, claiming the Federal Aviation Administration, not the city, controls what happens in the air.
The city attorney maintains the ordinance is necessary and meant to protect firefighters, police and others because lives can be in danger.
Chappell’s lawyer believes the charges against his client will ultimately be dismissed.
Michael Ponce is also accused of violating the drone ordinance Dec. 9 by flying his drone more than 400 feet above Griffith Park and within three miles of hospital heliports.
Ponce and Chappell each could face up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine if convicted.