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LAPD cracks down on drone aircraft use by real estate agents

posted Jan 27, 2012, 11:51 PM by Higgins Field

The Los Angeles Police Department is warning real estate agents not to use images of properties taken from unmanned aircraft, saying the flying drones pose a potential safety hazard and could violate federal aviation policy.

The warning was issued this week after officers saw a television news report showing a basketball-sized object with multiple rotors hovering over an expansive Westside residence.

"We are just trying to inform the public to ensure that before hiring these companies to operate these aircraft in federal airspace, that they are abiding by the federal regulations to ensure safety," said police Sgt. George Gonzalez.

Drones can range from as small as model airplanes built by hobbyists to as large as a commercial jet. Nationally, there has been an intense and growing debate about the safety of allowing drones to operate in airspace used by passenger aircraft.

Federal regulations prohibit the operation of unmanned aircraft in U.S airspace without specific permission, though the rules do allow hobbyists to fly model planes in designated areas.

Real estate agents have been posting aerial photos and video of homes for sale in the Los Angeles area, according to the LAPD. The pictures have been taken from several hundred feet off the ground in the city's crowded airspace -- an altitude at which police helicopters often fly.

Seeking to maintain the safety of their pilots as well as people on the ground, LAPD officials are first notifying those who are in the market for photos taken by drones "so they make informed decisions and don’t hurt anybody," Gonzalez said.

The LAPD knows who was operating the "spider-like" drone shown on TV, but hasn't yet contacted the operator, Gonzalez said.