August 26, 2014 6:30 pm

Drones pose new safety questions for Transport Canada

TORONTO – Air safety regulators are scrambling to keep up with the challenges posed by the explosive growth in sales of drones.

These are not your father’s model aircraft: For just a few hundred dollars hobbyists are now able to buy a sophisticated flying machine that can capture spectacular, high definition video from above.

But they have also posed risks to commercial aviation.

A Porter Airlines planes recently had a close call while landing at Washington’s Dulles Airport when a drone zipped by a mere 15 metres away.

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The internet was alive with chatter when a hobbyist posted video of jets landing at Vancouver Airport, images clearly recorded far too close to commercial flight paths.

“I’m really saddened by the irresponsibility of some of these pilots,” said Zoltan Pittner, owner of a hobby store and a spokesperson for the Model Aeronautics Association of Canada (M.A.A.C).

He invited Global News for a demonstration of responsible flying at the Humber Valley RC Flyers club in Etobicoke.  Pittner showed off a drone that weighs less than a kilogram and that can fold up and be stored in a briefcase—equipped with a GoPro camera mounted on a steadicam platform.

He did not hide his delight at the capabilities of the technology, but fears that rogue flyers may stain the reputation of all.

“We call for common sense from all the pilots to make sure they’re not endangering civil aviation,” he said.

The M.A.A.C. requires everyone flying at one of the recognized clubs to demonstrate proficiency and to abide by safety rules—including never allowing an aircraft to soar out of sight. The concern is with hobbyists who do not join clubs and go solo.

Drones are not covered by the regulators.  Anyone flying for commercial purposes, or if they are using an aircraft heavier than 35 kilograms must obtain a licence called a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC). It carries strict guidelines.

But amateurs need no permit to buy or fly.

ALPA, the international organization that speaks for commercial airline pilots is urging officials to implement tighter regulations.

“I do think there requires an expanded regulatory framework, given the huge appetite for flying these remotely-operated vehicles into our air space,” said ALPA Vice President Sean Cassidy in an interview from Washington, DC.

Transport Canada has appointed a working group to look into the issue, but is not planning a crackdown.

“I won’t suggest we’re going to introduce regulation for amateurs,” said Martin Eley, Director General, Civil Aviation.  “We certainly want to do a lot more education and that work is underway.”

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