Regulation changes coming for drone users

By Taylor Chartrand
December 14, 2018 - 2:31pm

Medicine Hat, AB - If you're thinking about purchasing a drone for Christmas, there are a few things you should know before taking flight.

President of Canadian Unmanned Incorporated Sterling Cripps says it's not as easy as one would think.

"Medicine Hat is located inside of E-Class airspace. The rules and regulations for flying around an air drone for commercial purposes is out to five nautical miles. But, if you just want to fly for recreational use, those distances are 3.5 nautical miles I believe."

For those unaware, 1 nautical mile is roughly 2 kilometers. That means, there isn't a ton of area to fly in Medicine Hat due to the close proximity with the airport.

In order to fly a drone around the airport, you need what's called a special flight operating certificate (SFOC) and you also need special permission from Nav Canada (the people in the air-tower at Medicine Hat Airport).

"Basically, you need permission to fly a drone inside of Medicine Hat based on those parameters." 

Those parameters apply to both recreational and commercial drones.

"It's essentially between 250 grams, which would be about the size of a blackboard eraser, up to 25 kilograms, which can get very large. It is quite stringent. They don't want you flying drones in and around an airspace where there's a risk of collision."

Cripps says he works very closely with Transport Canada on building drone regulations and they will be changing in the coming days.

"We're at the point now where they're advertising these new rules and regulations coming into effect before Christmas and they will be found in part 9 of the Canadian Aviation Regulations."

Cripps says there are not a lot of changes from the rules which currently exist however, it will be made more public and people will have to be aware.

"Currently, if you want to fly you need a SFOC. Those are going to go away. There will be SFOC's required for weights above 25 kilograms and if you want to fly beyond the line of sight. However, between 250 grams and 25 kilograms, you will not need an SFOC."

What you're going to have to do instead is go online and register your drone by serial number with your contact information with Transportation Canada. 

"Your drone will then be registered and you will have to write one of two exams, either basic or an advanced exam to prove to Transportation Canada that you have the proper aviation knowledge."

Cripps says these new regulations will impact both commercial and recreational drone users.

"You will have to pass a threshold exam to prove that competency. The weight is more upon us commercial users. We're going to have to re-visit how we operate a little bit in terms of our greater safety, more accountability, that sort of thing."

The proposed regulation changes are as follows:

Very small drone more than 250 g to 1 kg: Most recreational users will fit into this category. 
-Pilot must be 14 years old or older and will be required to:
-mark their device with their name and contact information;
-pass a basic knowledge test;
-have liability insurance; and
fly at least:
-5.6 km from airports
-1.9 km from heliports
-30 m from people

Small drone more than 1 kg to 25 kg: This category is for users operating in rural areas (e.g., agricultural purposes, wildlife surveys, natural resources).
-Pilot must be 16 years old or older and will be required to:
-mark their device with their name and contact information;
-pass a basic knowledge test;
-have liability insurance; and
fly at least:
-5.6 km from airports
-1.9 km from heliports
-150 m from open-air assemblies of people (i.e. outdoor concert)
-76 m from people, vehicles, vessels
-1 km from built-up areas

Small drone more than 1 kg to 25 kg: This category is for users who intend to fly in urban areas, within controlled airspace or close to anywhere that airplanes, helicopters and float-planes land and take off.
-Pilot must be 16 years or older and will be required to:
-hold a pilot permit that is specific to small drones;
-have liability insurance;
-register and mark their device with a unique identification Transport Canada will provide;
-operate a drone that meets a design standard;
-follow a set of flight rules;
-get approval from air traffic control when flying in controlled airspace or near aerodromes; and
fly at least:
-150 m from open-air assemblies of people (i.e. outdoor concert) unless at least 90 m high
-30 m from people, vehicles, vessels

And that is exactly what Cripps is hoping for with these new regulations. More accountability and safety for not only drone users, but the general public as well.

"Drones have the capability to get out of hand. If you're not trained and experienced in operating them and you haven't fully understood the operating manual, it could lead to complications."

And these complications could lead to some fairly unfortunate accidents.

"Fly away's do happen and when the operator loses control, they then lose sight of it. That drone has a battery in it and the battery will expire and eventually that drone is going to come crashing down. It may end up in a field or perhaps a school yard."

Cripps says it happens quite often that people get excited, get them out of the box, plug them in, charge them and go and fly without really understanding how to do so.

"That in itself is a threat and a problem for the general public because when you have fly away's they have to come down somewhere. More so, if you have a fly away over an air zone, it becomes a hazard to aviation. As a pilot, I can assure you that drones are very difficult to see and look for and not only that, you won't see them until its too late."

You could face serious penalties, including up to $25,000 in fines and/or jail time, if you:
-put aircraft at risk
-fly where you are not allowed
-endanger anyone’s safety

Unfortunately, Cripps says drone training is few and far between.

"There are models out there that have plenty of YouTube tutorials. Some are very good and others are just plain hacks and that's not the way to learn. The best way to learn is to fully read the manual, understand the capabilities of the drone and learn in small steps."

Cripps says drone users should learn how to hover and maneuver carefully in a small area and then extend your range to the point where you're comfortable flying at a few hundred meters away from you. 

"We're still bound by the rules, even with the new rule changes, that you have to keep that drone within visual line of sight."

The solution to the problem? The public needs to better understand the rules, regulations and safety measures behind drones.

"Right now, people do not know what the rules are. People will see a drone flying over Kin Coulee Park and they'll think that's quite fun and interesting to watch, but one, flying over a public park like that is illegal and two, you're so close to the airspace it presents a hazard. 

If you fly where you are not allowed you could be fined up to $3,000.

Cripps added the only times drones should be flown in these areas is when work is going on and its conducted by a licensed, trained and credible operator who has the proper safety measures put into place."

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