Over the past decade or so there has been explosive growth in the hobby of flying drones, be they of the type sold for a few tens of dollars at mall kiosks, or sophisticated machines costing in the hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.
Lately, several concerning issues about drones have come to the fore. Generally, these issues fall into two spheres, privacy and safety.
On the privacy side there have been numerous stories in the media here in the Vancouver area about drones being spotted at balconies and windows high up outside condominium and apartment towers, presumably equipped with cameras that can peer into these locations and either record or transmit video of these residential areas.
More recently, the safety aspect was thrust into the public domain with the shutdown of Gatwick Airport, one of two main airports serving the London area in the UK. The Gatwick shutdown, after the supposed spotting of a drone in or near the airport traffic control space, lead to a days-long halt for airline traffic, and in fact caused interruptions that extended beyond the UK.
Whether or not there was in fact a drone, or drones at Gatwick, the upshot is that sophisticated gear was installed there and at Heathrow, the other major London airport – equipment that could detect, disable, or bring down drones that are deemed a hazard to regular operations.
Many countries now regulate drones, and in early January Canada issued new guidelines that will take effect later in the year and can lead to the imposition of stiff penalties for violators.
Pilots of commercial aircraft in Canada have reported numerous sightings of drones near airports, and there have even been reports of pilots taking evasive action to avoid a potential strike.
Recently, Canada’s Minister of Transport Marc Garneau, himself a pilot and Canada’s first astronaut, introduced new rules for drone operations in this country, set to go into effect June 1 this year.
These new rules were developed in consultation with industry associations and groups, although, as usual when new governmental regulations are announced, a fringe element reacted negatively (the type that believes government has no basis for governing).
What stands out in the new regulations, which apply to all drones with a mass between 250 grams and 25 kilograms, is the introduction of an age specification and the designations of basic and advanced operations.
Both designations require operators to pass an online examination, after which a pilot operating certificate will be issued. An operator aged 14, the minimum age for a certificate, or 15, will receive a basic designation. Operators 16 and over are eligible for an advanced certificate.
Essentially, those with a basic designation are restricted in drone flights over and near people. They must remain at least 30 metres away from people and they may not fly over people at all.
For both designations there is a height restriction of 122 metres, and the regulations state drones must remain clear of aircraft operations – three nautical miles from the centre of an airport and one mile from the centre of a heliport.
In the new regulations, Transport Canada uses the term Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems rather than the vernacular term drone. The government estimates that there are almost 200,000 RPAS in Canada, compared to 37,000 traditional aircraft. It also estimates that there are around 140,000 RPAS operators, and that this number will increase to 225,000 by 2025.
A key aspect of the new regulations is that an RPAS may not be flown without a certificate of registration issued to the registered owner of the device. The registration number for the RPAS must be affixed to the aircraft before flying.
In addition, records must be kept of RPAS flights (date and time of flight, pilot name), and records must be kept of modifications to the craft, such as the installation of a new camera.
There are some costs associated with the new regulations ranging from $5 for the RPAS registration to $10 for the pilot exam and $25 for a pilot certificate for advanced operations.
If you are interested in more details, the full regulations can be found in Government of Canada publication SOR/2019-11.