The Canadian federal government is cracking down on recreational drone use in an effort to combat the rising number of drone and commercial aircraft altercations, which have more than tripled since 2014.
Minister of Transport Marc Garneau has announced an interim order that details new restrictions on recreational drone users across Canada, which come with fines of up to $3,000 if broken.
Effective immediately, the order prohibits recreational drone pilots from flying their unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) higher than 90 metres, within 75 metres of buildings, people or other vehicles, or within nine kilometres of an airport, Transport Canada says.
Users are required to write their contact information on their drones and night flying is also banned under the new rules. Additionally, flying is restricted over first responder emergency sites, open-air assembly of people, and in cloud cover.
These restrictions, many of which existed as only guidelines before the announcement but did not come with financial penalties, apply to aircraft weighing between 250 grams (0.55 pounds) and 35 Kg (77.2 pounds), according to Transport Canada.
“The government certainly doesn’t want to restrict drones so much that we hinder innovation, because it’s so important to our economy and standard of living,” Garneau says at the Mar. 16 announcement at Billy Bishop Airport in Toronto. “But like any new technology, drones must be used with care. And we cannot wait for something bad to happen before we react.”
The aviation industry has reacted, and responses so far have been positive.
“This is a great, encouraging step because the general view from the aviation community is that recreational or hobby use can lead to dangerous circumstances,” Mark Aruja, chairman of Unmanned Systems Canada, tells IT World Canada. “That being said, this is an interim order and it does need refinement.”
He points out that if users were to go and draw 9 km circles – which encompasses roughly 260 square kms, Aruja adds – around all the airports, helipads, and places where air flight operations take place in Ontario, it would not be possible to operate a sizeable drone in the southern half of the province.
“We need to fine-tune these things a bit and make them more practically applicable. They also need to be enforceable, both from a legal perspective and a public one. For example, how does a recreational user know, wherever they are, that they’re within “X” kilometres of an airport? It’s not as easy as you’d think,” he explains.
Aruja expects that with the transport ministry open to hearing from industry experts, these details could be changed as early as within the next few weeks
Drone Delivery Canada (DDC) also “applauds” the federal government’s new rules in its Mar. 16 press release. Its president, Richard Buzbuzian, points out that while the order has no direct impact on the organization’s business of developing a logistics platform using drones, DDC supports them “because they begin to establish ground rules and allow us to move forward in working with the government to establish policies and regulations that keep pace with the progress being made by the industry.”
“Right now those regulations are lagging behind the progress that is being made,” Buzbuzian says. “We want to join forces and work together with government so that we are no longer operating in a regulatory, legal, and ethical vacuum.”
He adds that he is “encouraged that the government is determined to ensure that it gets things right when it comes to regulating unmanned aerial vehicles – or drones.”
Currently, UAVs for commercial use fall under different regulations set out by Transport Canada last year. Professional UAV pilots must obtain a Special Flight Operating Certificate (SFOC) from the organization to operate, and cannot be used beyond an unaided visual line of sight. They must also complete training courses and prove their equipment, according to Aruja. There are also two exemptions that allow non-recreational pilots to undergo low-risk operations in more remote areas, such as a drone weighing less than a kilogram, that can be granted by Transport Canada.
“There are already is a complete set of rules under which commercial operators operate and it’s a rigorous process to obtain certification,” Aruja explains. “But I am not aware of any incidents to date of any professional user who has been implicated in an unsafe operation situation, so it’s clearly doing its job.”