Regulations and Drone Certification: Don't Fly by the Seat of your Pants
By Joseph Hentz
With the increasing number of drones present in the skies, there has been a heightened focus on regulating drone operation in Canada. Currently, Transport Canada has jurisdiction of the civil use of drones, and has been spearheading development of the regulations in conjunction with various stakeholders, including the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.
Prior to using your drone in either a recreational or commercial context, you must consider whether it is necessary to obtain a Special Flight Operations Certificate ("SFOC") which can be obtained through a Regional Transport Canada General Aviation Office. An SFOC is used to grant authorization for drone flights, but generally limits drone operators to flying in a certain geographical area for a specific purpose. In 2012, Transport Canada issued 345 SFOCs. By 2014, this number had grown to 1,672, representing growth of 485% in a mere two years.1
Outside of the SFOC regulations, some provisions of the Canadian Aviation Regulations will govern the use of drones in Canada, specifically with respect to safety in the operation of aircraft generally and flights in low airspace. The exact application of these rules hasn't been determined to date; however, Transport Canada recently proposed amendments to these rules to cover drone-specific regulations.
Recreational Use: Let The Good Times Fly!
Transport Canada has opted to regulate recreational use of drones to ensure that the public is kept safe given the risks of operating drones in crowded or urban areas. If your drone weighs more than 35 kg, then a SFOC must be obtained. If the drone weighs less than 35 kg, and is used solely for recreational purposes, then no SFOC is necessary provided the operator respects safety and airspace regulations.2 Transport Canada has a comprehensive list of do's and don'ts for recreational drone use to ensure a safe and legal flight.3
Use for Work or Research: Takin' Care of Business
Transport Canada strictly regulates drones that are used for commercial or research related purposes. If the drone is being used for these purposes and it weighs more than 25 kg, the operator must apply for and be provided with a SFOC prior to operating the drone. If the drone weighs between 2 kg and 25 kg, and is used within the exemption conditions, then the operator is exempted from certification but must notify Transport Canada of their contact information, the drone model, the description of the operation, and the geographical boundaries of the operation. If the drone weighs less than 2 kg, no permission is required, but the exemption conditions must be met and the drone must be operated within a visual line-of-sight. For a detailed list of the exemption conditions, visit Transport Canada's webpage, listed below.4 That being said, there are still other risks involved in operating a drone safely, which will be covered in subsequent articles.
Notice of Proposed Amendment: The Times They Are a Changin'
Transport Canada recently proposed changes to the regulations of drones and how to safely permit their use in Canadian airspace. The Notice of Proposed Amendment focuses on an intent to heighten regulations for drones that are used for recreational, commercial, business and academic purposes. The Amendment proposes to delineate between very small unmanned air vehicles (UAVs), small UAVs conducting limited operations that take place within a certain geographical area with risk minimizing restrictions, and small UAVs conducting complex operations that require operators to register with Transport Canada. The Amendment also proposes that the drone be marked and registered, to enable easier identification. Further changes are being suggested that include increased training and licensing for pilots of these unmanned aerial vehicles, maintenance requirements and airworthiness design standards. In short, there will be many developments to the rules and regulations once the Amendments are implemented, including restrictions on drones being operated at night, in proximity to an aerodrome, within 9 km of a built-up area, over crowded areas, when an operator's certificate is required and which operators must maintain liability insurance.5
If you own a drone, or are intent on acquiring one, you should take the time to familiarize yourself with the regulations, and ensure that the proper certification and training is obtained to safely and legally operate your drone prior to beginning any flight.
1Government of Canada, Transport Canada consults on proposed changes to UAV safety regulations: http://news.gc.ca/web/article-en.do?nid=981029.
2Transport Canada, Flying a drone recreationally: http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/civilaviation/standards/standards-4179.html
5Transport Canada, Notice of Proposed Amendment (NPA): Unmanned Air Vehicles: