Farmers and other commercial users of drones should begin now to secure the required Transport Canada authorization for operating the unmanned air vehicles they use for scouting fields, crops and livestock.
Drone licensing has become a hot ticket item in recent months because of the growing recreational interest in flying the units, said Natasha Gauthier, a spokeswoman for Transport Canada. Last summer, the department launched a review of its UAV operating regulations and is expected to release them sometime during 2016. They will be included in the Canada Gazette for consultation with stakeholders and the public.
Unless you’re flying for fun, as model airplane enthusiasts do, you’ll need a Special Flight Operations Certificate from Transport Canada, advises Gauthier in an interview. “We decide on them on a case-by-case basis. Our inspectors will go through their applications and check out their experience operating the units.”
The certificates “can include restrictions and requirements such as maximum allowed altitude, communications with air traffic control, and minimum required distances from aerodromes, people, and buildings. Each certificate issued contains specific terms on what the operator is allowed to do.” UAVs will have to display specified markings and registration information.
The main aim is to ensure a prospective drone operator won’t turn the device into an airborne risk for other aircraft or people on the ground.
“It’s all a question of how and where you use the UAV,” Gauthier added. “The new regulations will spell that out.”
Craft under 25 kilograms in weight will be under fairly simple rules, she said. They’re considered to be low risk.
Bigger machines, which can carry a payload, will face more complicated licensing for safety reasons. That will include staying away from people, buildings and other structures.
“The department has already reached out to the manufacturers to encourage them to educate their customers on proper operation,” she said. “We tell them to direct people to our website, which has a lot of information on the safe operation of UAVs.”
The law already provides for fines and jail terms for reckless and negligent manner that could cause property damage or bodily harm, the department says. “Flying a UAV near other aircraft is extremely dangerous. Anyone who violates controlled or restricted airspace and endangers the safety of airplanes could face fines of up to $25,000 and/or prison. This applies to any size of UAV used for any purpose. All UAV pilots must also stay away from forest fires and not interfere with the work of first responders.”
An operator who requires an SFOC and flies a UAV without one, the department can issue fines up to $5,000 for an individual and $25,000 for a business.
The current rules require drones to be flown at least nine kms away from airports, no higher than 90 metres above the ground and at least 150 metres away from people, buildings and vehicles.
In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration requires drone owners to register their devices or risk a US$27,500 fine.A Special Flight Operations Certificate from Transport Canada will now be required when flying a drone.