Transport Canada plans to have new rules regulating drones by 2017.
“The regulations really haven’t kept pace with the growth in the industry,” said Aaron McCrorie, director of civil aviation at Transport Canada.
Right now Canada’s rules are very different depending on whether your drone is “recreational” or “commercial” – depending essentially on whether you’re using it for fun, or to make money. Commercial drones tend to be more tightly-regulated.
Dividing drones along these lines isn’t the best way to go, McCrorie said.
“Really when you look at risk, what you’re doing doesn’t matter as much as where you’re operating and what size of device that you’re operating,” he said.
“We want to take a more risk-based approach to the regulatory framework and regulate more based on the size of the UAV or drone that you’re using and where you’re using it.”
In an attempt to fix that, Transport Canada spent last summer consulting people on how to improve the regulations. They hope to present recommendations to the minister within a month, and publish new regulations in 12 to 18 months.
Drones may seem like a harmless novelty item, but they can pose safety risks, he said.
If a drone hits an airplane, it could damage the aircraft’s structure or even be “ingested” into the plane’s engine, causing engine failure, or it could hit the windscreen and block pilots’ view, said Dan Adamus, president of the Canada Board of the Air Line Pilots Association International.
To his knowledge, that’s never happened in Canada.
“But let’s not wait until there is an incident. Let’s get this done as soon as we can to mitigate the possible risk.”
He often hears reports of drones being used improperly and flying too close to airports and airplanes. Without a special permit, drones are not allowed to fly within 9 kilometres of an airport, or higher than 90 metres.
There were 82 drone-related incidents in 2015 – more than double the 38 incidents in 2014, according to a search of Transport Canada’s Civil Aviation Daily Occurrence Reporting System.
Most of these were reports of pilots spotting drones flying too close to their aircraft.
“We’re very concerned,” Adamus said. “In talking to some of the pilots who’ve had this happen, it’s quite startling.”
License and registration
Transport Canada is considering requiring drone pilots to demonstrate knowledge of piloting and airspace, licensing pilots, registering drones and requiring insurance – all depending on how you want to use your drone and the type of equipment you’re using.
Generally speaking, McCrorie said, the bigger your drone is and the more complex your flight path (including whether you’re near an airport or an urban area) the more requirements you’ll have to meet in order to fly it legally.
The department is also considering giving police officers the power to pursue people who operate drones unsafely.
It’s a balancing act, McCrorie said.
“Under the Aeronautics Act we have a mandate to promote aviation, and UAVs are fun. They’re also a tremendous economic opportunity for people. We’re seeing a lot of tremendous economic growth in this sector,” he said.
“We don’t want to limit that but we want to make sure it’s done safely. So it’s really about taking a balanced approach.”
How to safely fly your drone
If you were lucky enough to get a drone for Christmas, Adamus would like you to check out Transport Canada’s website before you take it for a spin.
“The basic principles,” he said, “are no less than 9 kilometres from an airport and no more than 90 metres above ground. And also not above built-up areas.”
Transport Canada guidelines on flying a UAV
With files from Laura Stone