Flying a drone in Canada is about to come with more red tape, as the feds announced tighter restrictions on Wednesday in order to create safer airspace.
The new rules require drone operators to pass an exam and get a pilot’s certificate if they are flying a larger device. Operators will also be required to register their drones and mark them with that registration number — rules the United States implemented a few years ago.
“This is very serious. If you put an object in the air, in the airspace of this country, you are in fact piloting it, and if you cause an accident, that can have enormous repercussions,” Transport Minister Marc Garneau said during the announcement.
“You have to realize there will be a price to pay for that,” he said, adding that some of the penalties could include prison time.
Transport Canada has documented a spike in the number of incidents posing a risk to aviation safety in recent years. The number of reported incidents more than tripled to 135 in 2017, up from 38 incidents when data collection began in 2014. In 2018, the number of incidents fell to 100.
WATCH: Certain drone operators will have to apply for a pilot’s certificate
Hoping to decrease the number of incidents even further, Transport Canada said its inspectors will issue fines and also partner with RCMP and police across the country.
But how does Transport Canada plan to enforce the new rules?
‘Difficult to enforce’
Kerry Moher, an expert in drone safety training with Fresh Air Educators, said the problem is that there are no “drone police.” The idea of enforcement is to partner up with other agencies, and collectively everyone will be part of this — but the difficulty is that the general public may now know what is allowed and what isn’t.
“In the short term, it will be really difficult to enforce the rules,” he said. “You can see what has happened at Heathrow and Gatwick simply because you don’t really have to comply to register the drone.”
The Air Canada Pilots Association said it believes the new regulations will help ensure safer operation of drones.
“We’ve closely followed the development of the new regulations for remotely piloted aircraft systems,” said the association’s communications manager, Christopher Praught.
“Overall, we are pleased with what we’ve seen today, and while questions around enforcement are best left to the appropriate authorities, we believe that requirements around registration, certification, and records, in addition to new financial penalties for non-compliance, will help ensure that these drones are operated safely.”
Britain is also considering tightening its laws around drones after the devices disrupted flights at major airports over the last few weeks.
Departures from Heathrow, Europe’s busiest airport, were halted for an hour on Tuesday evening after a drone was sighted. And London’s second-busiest airport, Gatwick, was severely disrupted when drones were sighted on three consecutive days in December, resulting in about 1,000 flights being cancelled or diverted and affecting 140,000 passengers.
The first recorded collision between a drone and a passenger aircraft in Canada occurred in October 2017 as an inbound SkyJet flight was struck as it approached Quebec City’s airport. The pilot was able to land the plane safely.
WATCH: Why drone threats crippled Gatwick Airport in the U.K.
Moher said the problem has to do with compliance. The U.S. has required people to register their drones for a few years now, he said, but Moher claims the compliance rate has been low, as there really isn’t any incentive or enforcement.
The question of enforcement was also brought to Garneau during the announcement. He said that “we will see how respectful people are” and that the department has Transport Canada inspectors.
“But we also realize we can’t cover the entire country just with Transport Canada inspectors so we are working with the RCMP and will be approaching other police services across the country so that they understand that there are new rules with fines and possible imprisonment.”
— With files from the Canadian Press