Canada: Drones: A New Way Forward

Drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), dominated the media for all the wrong reasons at the end of 2018. The recent drone-related closures of Gatwick and Heathrow airports have refocused the public's attention on drone regulation. The Canadian UAV industry has been anxiously awaiting the modernization of the regulation of UAV operations within visual line-of-sight (VLOS). While draft regulations were released, Transport Canada signaled some departure from their content and the Federal Government had been aiming to release the final regulations before the end of 2018.

On January 9, 2019, Transport Minister, Marc Garneau, provided an overview of the new regulations for the operation of UAVs under 25 kilograms. Below is a summary of some of the key changes proposed in the draft regulations published in the Canada Gazette, which will not come into force until June 1, 2019:

  • Weight: New regulations apply to any drone weighing between 250g and 25kg, regardless of its intended use (leisure, work or research).
  • Testing: All drone pilots must pass an online aviation knowledge test, which will vary based on the riskiness of the operation and the weight of the drone to be utilized.
  • Age Requirements: All drone pilots must be at least 14 years of age for basic operations (or supervised by someone who is at least 14 years of age who holds a pilot certificate) or 16 years of age for advanced operations.
  • Registration: All drones must be registered with Transport Canada. Registered owners of drones must be at least 14 years old and a citizen or permanent resident of Canada. Corporations and federal, municipal or provincial governments can also own and register drones.
  • Marking: UAVs must be affixed with registration marks issued by Transport Canada.
  • Pilot Categories: There will be two registration categories for drone pilots: i) basic and ii) advanced. Both require passing online tests, and the advanced category requires passing an in-person flight review.

Basic operations require all of the following:

1. Drone pilots fly in uncontrolled airspace
2. Drone pilots never fly it over bystanders
3. Drone pilots fly it more than 30 meters (100 feet) from bystanders (measured horizontally)

Advanced operations include any of the following:

1. Drone pilots want to fly in controlled airspace
2. Drone pilots want to fly over bystanders
3. Drone pilots want to fly within 30 meters (100 feet) of bystanders (measured horizontally)

  • Pilots: Drone pilots must carry a valid drone pilot certificate and only fly drones that are marked and registered with Transport Canada.
  • Drugs and Alcohol: Drinking alcohol within 12 hours of operating a drone, or otherwise being under the influence of alcohol or any impairing drug, is prohibited.
  • Enforcement and Penalties: Transport Canada will continue to maintain primary authority but will also authorize law enforcement agencies to issue administrative penalties, which can include jail time for more serious offences. Fines range from C$1,000-5,000 for individuals and C$5,000-25,000 for businesses.

The existing rules and regulations on UAV operations will continue to have effect until the new regulations take effect on June 1, 2019.  

Pilots operating UAVs weighing more than 25kg or beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) must apply to Transport Canada for a special operations certificate prior to flying. Microdrones (those weighing less than 250g) are exempt from the new regulations, but must be operated in accordance with existing regulations.

These new proposed regulations are aimed at providing greater accountability to the public and ensuring that UAVs are operated in a safe manner, without hampering the benefits of UAVs. It is hoped that these regulations will restore Canada's image as a leader in the UAV field.

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© 2018 Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP.

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