July 27, 2017 4:15 pm

Feds get four drone complaints a week from pilots, airports across Canada

A Freefly Alta 6 drone is seen in this file image.


It’s safe to assume that it was the last thing that the Toronto Island airport control tower wanted to have to cope with first thing in the morning on Canada Day.

The day before, June 30, had been the busiest day in the small airport’s history, with 13,000 passengers coming and going. Thousands more were expected on the holiday itself.

But there it was, and it had to be dealt with: a blue and white drone 900 metres up, 12 kilometres away and very much in the way of all those planes. At 7:30, an air traffic controller picked up the phone and called the police.

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“It was affecting the flight path,” says Toronto Const. Allison Douglas-Cooke.

“It was an obstruction. It was enough of a concern that they felt they needed to call us to get our assistance to find who the operator might have been, so that their planes could land safely.”

But in the end, police couldn’t find the drone or its operator.

“There usually isn’t very much that we are able to do, to be honest with you.”

Airport officials referred calls to Transport Canada.

WATCH: A passenger airplane and possible drone nearly collided Monday morning as the plane was coming in for landing at Toronto’s Billy Bishop airport. Ashley Carter gets the first hand account from one passenger of the incident.

Federal aviation officials got 208 complaints about drones in 2016, up from 83 in 2015 and 39 in 2014, a federal air incident database shows. They have had 136 so far this year, which, if trends continue, would end the year with 236. Dozens end in calls from airports to police, who are rarely able to find the drone operator.

READ: Nova Scotia group urges province to specify ban on drone use by hunters

Some incidents could have ended badly — on April 28, an Air Canada Jazz flight on final approach to the Montreal airport had a drone fly nine to 12 metres below the aircraft at 1,200 metres.


  • In late July, a Cessna over London, Ont., was missed by six metres by a drone that passed over the aircraft.
  • Earlier in the month, an Air Canada flight to Winnipeg reported that a drone came within “close proximity.”
  • At the end of June, a drone over the Winnipeg airport forced the control tower there to switch the runway an incoming plane was supposed to land on.
  • In northwestern Alberta on June 23, a helicopter had to turn abruptly to avoid being hit by a drone inspecting a pipeline.
  • On June 21, a WestJet pilot landing in Ottawa passed a drone at 30 metres, which at the time was the same altitude as the plane.
  • Earlier in June, a skydiver in Vernon, B.C. filed a complaint about a drone with federal aviation officials.

READ: Edmonton police lay 1st charges in relation to dangerous use of a drone

In many cases, the federal data mentions a call to local police, who are rarely able to find the drone or its owner.

Since August of 2016, private citizens have tried to shoot down at least three drones in Canada: in Norfolk County, Ont., the Cariboo region of B.C., and in an incident in late June south of Calgary.

In the Ontario and B.C. cases, the drone was successfully shot down; in the Calgary case, reported in the federal aviation data, a property owner fired at the drone with a shotgun and missed. RCMP officers talked to the drone operator, who said he had done the paperwork for the flight correctly, and showed them video footage that he said showed that it hadn’t crossed the man’s property line.

In March, Transport Canada announced stricter new rules for drone operators, which among other things require them to mark their drones with their contact information. But the details of incidents raise the question of how enforceable any rules will turn out to be.

READ: Feds unveil new fines, tighter rules for drones flown too close to airports

WATCH: Canadian consumers who buy drones will now face new rules dictating how the devices can be flown. As Sean O’Shea reports, drone owners who violate the rules face fines of up to $3,000.

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