Much-needed guidance, in the form of thoughtful regulation, is almost here for drone operators in Canada.
Transport Canada, a part of the Canadian government, under the Transportation, Infrastructure, and Communities (TIC) portfolio, is busy developing new regulations for visual line-of-sight operations for drones. These rules will take effect in late Spring.
Transport Canada insists that the new rules are necessary to ensure safer airspace in Canada. In an April 2016 briefing, a spokesperson for Transport Canada said “The proposed floor for very small UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] is intended to minimize the risks to persons, based on the speed and potential lethality” and asserted that even very small drones are 30 percent more likely to be lethal due to the speed they can achieve and level of energy they transfer upon impact. Additionally, accidents and incidents involving drones operating dangerously close to aircraft and buildings remain a big concern.
These new regulations, when implemented will override the current Special Flight Operations Certificates (SFOCs) that governs non-recreational, commercially operated small aircraft and will apply to commercial and non-commercial drones up to 25 kilograms (55 pounds) in weight.
This is a direct response to the dramatic increase in UAV usage and mirrors closely the recommendations set forth in May 2015 by Transport Canada. These recommendations or notice of proposed amendments (NPAs) have garnered considerable feedback from drone users and advocacy groups and have been refined to reflect the current models available on the market and the applicable operational considerations quite nicely. Locale of operation will also be factored in: drone operators in more remote areas will have fewer regulations to comply with than operators in more congested areas.
At present, drones are not permitted to operate within 9 kilometers (5.6 miles) of aerodromes (airports, heliports and seaplane bases). Use of drones within national parks are also strictly governed and requires prior permission from Parks Canada. Transport Canada also cautions strongly against operating drones over populated areas, moving vehicles, highways, and busy streets and recommends that you seek prior permission for these situations. They provide a convenient Do’s and Don’ts flyer on their website.
The next major concern for Transport Canada will be the successful implementation and adoption of the new rules, and key UAV advocacy groups are looking for ways to bridge any perceived gaps between this as a stringent safety mandate from the government and allowing the UAV industry to continue to focus on economic growth, job creation, and technological advancements as drivers of innovation. Of course, with regulation comes more paperwork and new licensing processes, along with all the requisite application fees, etc., which continues to receive a fair degree of pushback, especially from recreational users.
Regardless of the pending regulations, current SFOCs will still apply to UAVs over the 25-kilogram threshold and anything else operating beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS). Ideally, the advocacy groups want to see BVLOS give rise to a wide range of applications, like pipeline and hydro monitoring, outdoor surveys of forests, wildlife and oceans, and numerous other situations that will require UAV operations at ever-greater distances from their pilots.
The future of drone regulation in Canada is ongoing but unfolding very quickly. Visit UAS Blog often for updates on this intriguing story and many others.