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Alberta drone company gets go-ahead for new type of flying

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WATCH: Okotoks-based In-Flight Data now has federal certification to fly drones for the purposes of public safety without the pilot having eyes on the aircraft. Michael King reports on the real-world applications – Jul 15, 2020

An Okotoks-based drone company is now able to take the next step in unmanned aviation.

In-Flight Data recently received a one-year certificate from Transport Canada to operate drones beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) for the purposes of public safety.

This allows drones to fly longer distances without pilots constantly being within sight of the aircraft.

Chris Healy, CEO of In-Flight Data, said the BVLOS certificate will change the way his company provides aerial information to clients.

“[BVLOS] is going to open the gates for energy companies to use drones for inspections,” said Healy.

“It’s going to usher in an era of the ability for us to carry passengers with drones.”

Read more: Finding Willy: Missing Weyburn dog safe after month on the run from drones, quads, traps

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While the certificate covers all of Canada, Healy pointed out there are still a lot of stipulations.

“[The certificate] allows us to fly our drones for public safety with lots of restrictions,” said Healy. “Like where we can fly, how high we can fly and for whom we can fly.”

Healy said one example of using BVLOS would be to act as an extra set of eyes for first responders during a natural disaster.

“This gives us the ability to, for example, go and support wildland fire crews,” said Healy. “We can identify where hot spots might be occurring and provide that information to the crew so that they can go put those fires out.”

Read more: Drug delivery by drone: Medication flown to Salt Spring Island in first-ever Canadian trial

Other BVLOS flights

In 2019, Transport Canada approved four one-time BVLOS certificates for operators to test their systems.

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These included Canada Post and Drone Delivery Canada, with both focused on delivering packages, food, and medical supplies to rural Canada.

Read more: New drone testing site takes flight in Calgary

Canadian UAV and ING Robotic Aviation were also granted certificates for pipeline and infrastructure surveys.

Alberta’s drone business

Calgary opened the Point Trotter Autonomous Systems Testing Area in 2018, allowing operators to test drones or other autonomous technology.

It’s only one of two UAV testing areas in Canada with restricted airspace, allowing operators to fly without putting anyone else at risk.

As more and more drones take to the skies, Healy said the Calgary area could see a boom in aviation-related business.

“More than 25 per cent of all the operators in Canada are located in southern Alberta,” said Healy.

“This is a huge step forward for the industry in Canada but it’s also a feather in Alberta’s cap.”