Commercial UAV Regulations – Clarifications

As the tower industry’s use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) continues to grow each year, it is becoming more and more important that tower owners and contractors develop a comprehensive understanding of our federal commercial UAV regulations.

At the same time, those regulations are often vague in nature, and can leave even the most experienced operators scratching their heads at times.

The following blog post captures a recent email conversation between Walter Wannamaker (Vertical Specialties) and Industry Canada regarding terms and definitions used by Transport Canada in the current regulatory framework for commercial use of UAVs. Specifically, this conversation touches on the following issues:

  • The definition of a “built-up area;”
  • The intent of the “built-up areas clause” in the regulations;
  • The definition of an “animal;” and
  • Insurance requirements for non-commercial (hobbyist) uses.

While we encourage interested UAV operators to read through the entire exchange below, here are a couple key points included in the emails from Transport Canada (click on each topic to expand):

“Transport Canada is currently undertaking an effort to better define “built-up area” for the multiple regulations in which it is used. The intent is to address it in a UAV context as well. For the interim, for UAVs operating under one of the UAV exemptions. A description of built-up area is available in Advisory Circular 600-004. “Built-up areas are considered areas with groups of buildings or dwellings including anything from small hamlets to major cities. Anything larger than a farmstead should be considered a built up area.” Note that two or three buildings alone would not constitute a built-up area but the stand-off distances of 100 ft (for 1 kg or less) and 500 ft (for greater than 1 kg) would have to be respected to stay away from buildings, structures, vehicles, etc. as per condition 31. What’s important to know is that operators flying under the exemption for UAVs 1 kg or less must stay just outside of built-up areas (but not over or within and while respecting the 100 ft lateral separation from buildings, vehicles, persons, etc.), whereas operators flying under the exemption for UAVs above 1 kg, up to and including 25 kg must stay at least 3 nautical miles (5,5 km) away from built-up areas.”
“This distance was based on the risk of “flying away” due to command link problems and inadvertently straying into adjacent built-up areas. To fly closer to a built-up area, the operator must apply in advance for a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC).”
“While we are not in a position to put limits on the definition of “animal” the intent is to take reasonable steps to avoid animals that can be reasonably detected and avoided, whether someone’s property or pet, wild animals, or any animals that might be specifically protected under other laws (Criminal Code, Endangered Species Act, Provincial or Municipal Regulations). Certainly the operator has to be in a reasonable position to know of the presence of a given animal and do what is reasonable under the circumstances to prevent undue hazards to wildlife. Securing the operating perimeter against the possible intrusion of squirrels and mice would be beyond reasonable because they are small and difficult to see unless they are the object of the operation, in which case going closer than the specified distances would require an application for an SFOC.”
“With respects to your second question regarding insurance requirements for Hobby/Personal use of UAVs, I should clarify that, when used for Hobby/Personal use, the aircraft would be considered a model aircraft and as such the regulatory requirements for model aircraft apply. CAR 101.01 defines “model aircraft” as – means an aircraft, the total weight of which does not exceed 35 kg (77.2 pounds), that is mechanically driven or launched into flight for recreational purposes and that is not designed to carry persons or other living creatures; (modèle réduit d’aéronef). However, CAR 102.01 explicitly excludes model aircraft from being governed by the CARs except where specifically indicated. Therefore, the requirement for insurance under 606.02(8) does not apply to model aircraft.”

 

FULL TEXT OF EMAILS AS FOLLOWS:

From: Walter Wannamaker, Vertical Specialties
Sent: January 12, 2017
To: Transport Canada
Subject: UAS (drone) exemption and insurance clarifications

Hello,

I have just reviewed NCR-091-2016 Exemption from Sections 602.41 and 603.66 for UAV operators and am still at a loss on some issues.

We have been operating our UAV under SFOC’s for the last few months. We have put in place all of the recommended or required items for a commercial operator – complex operations. Our work involves the inspection and documentation of communications towers and antenna systems and as inspectors, our schedule is not entirely in our control. The installation crews will drive when and where we are, making the application for an SFOC somewhat problematic.

Upon reading the introductory paragraph of the updated exemption I had high hopes. Unfortunately, the clarity is still not there. The introduction paragraph would seem to indicate a blanket exemption under 1kg, within VLS. I understood that there would be some qualification of the exemption to set limits.

In the “Purpose” paragraph some restricted areas are set out, but that valueless phrase “built up area” is used again. Nothing in the entire process or UAV industry has caused as much confusion and problems as those three words. The only available guidance is the second most useless phrase “anything larger than a farmstead”. I have traveled extensively throughout Canada and know that farms range from 2 or 3 acres to many thousands of acres. So, would the “built up area” have to be a cluster of buildings? A small town? Is it more than 2 buildings within a certain area? By definition a built up area is simply an area with buildings. Under the earlier guidelines, I had to have an SFOC if I was within 5 Nm of a built up area. This basically meant that there was next to no chance that an exemption would apply. I know this for certain as towers are typically placed in fairly remote areas, and yet there is almost always residences within 5 Nm. This exemption is even less clear in that it just prohibits “over or within” a built up area and goes on to require maintaining 100′ of lateral clearance from any people, buildings, structures, animals (there’s another one, what is the definition of animal for this?), vessels or vehicles not the subject of the operation. Would this mean that as long as I can maintain 100′ of lateral clearance from any dissociated buildings that I am not in a built up area and that I am good to go?

I understand that it can be difficult to achieve the balance of clarity and flexibility that is required for legislation, but this is unworkable, particularly in light of the penalties that could be involved. As PIC and a corporate shareholder, I face possible fines around $30,000 for being wrong on my guess as to what the legislation means.

If, at least, there was some guidance in regard to the intent of this restriction, it would be possible to make a reasonable judgement as to whether or not there would be a possibility of infringement.

If the intent is to limit the possibility of property damage in the event of a “loss of power” event, where the UAV drops out of the sky, then the limits of 300′ and 5Nm are entirely excessive.

A quick calculation would indicate that if there were a sudden gale (100km/hr) and the UAV lost power, it would take approximately 5 seconds to reach the ground and the UAV would travel about 140m. Otherwise it would be coming more or less straight down, at which point we have a different calculation.

If the UAV is operating within a 500′ radius of a central point, and lost power, the odds of hitting a 2000 square foot house within that 500′ radius are around 40 to 1 and the odds of hitting anything outside of the work radius increase exponentially with distance. The odds of hitting a person inside the work area are approximately 262,000 to 1 (assuming a person occupies around 3 square feet). It is interesting to note that having been employed in the construction industry for many years, in lifting operations where death and significant property damage are almost a certainty in the event of failure, we are only required to have a 5 to 1 safety factor.

If the intent is privacy, then you are dealing with an entirely different issue which will have more to do with intent and privacy law than flight operations.
I am certain that the UAV industry as whole would very much appreciate it if you could provide answers to the following questions.

a) What constitutes a “built up area” (Purpose and paragraph 29) for the purpose of this legislation? A town? A Hamlet? 2 buildings within 500′ of each other? Any area where the likelihood of the UAV striking an unrelated building in the event of failure is greater than 1 in 10?
b) What is the intent of the “built up area” clause?
c) What constitutes an “animal” (paragraph 30) for the purpose of this legislation and what is the intent? Will we have to chase all the squirrels and mice away?

All of the other restrictions are clear and understandable.

Thank you.

Walter Wannamaker

 

From: Transport Canada
To: Walter Wannamaker, Vertical Specialties
Subject: UAS (drone) exemption and insurance clarifications

Dear Mr. Wannamaker:

Thank you for your correspondence of January 12, 2017, regarding clarification of the new Exemptions to Parts 602.41 and 603.66 of the Canadian Aviation Regulations issued on December 21, 2016.

Transport Canada is currently undertaking an effort to better define “built-up area” for the multiple regulations in which it is used. The intent is to address it in a UAV context as well. For the interim, for UAVs operating under one of the UAV exemptions. A description of built-up area is available in Advisory Circular 600-004. “Built-up areas are considered areas with groups of buildings or dwellings including anything from small hamlets to major cities. Anything larger than a farmstead should be considered a built up area.” Note that two or three buildings alone would not constitute a built-up area but the stand-off distances of 100 ft (for 1 kg or less) and 500 ft (for greater than 1 kg) would have to be respected to stay away from buildings, structures, vehicles, etc. as per condition 31. What’s important to know is that operators flying under the exemption for UAVs 1 kg or less must stay just outside of built-up areas (but not over or within and while respecting the 100 ft lateral separation from buildings, vehicles, persons, etc.), whereas operators flying under the exemption for UAVs above 1 kg, up to and including 25 kg must stay at least 3 nautical miles (5,5 km) away from built-up areas. This distance was based on the risk of “flying away” due to command link problems and inadvertently straying into adjacent built-up areas. To fly closer to a built-up area, the operator must apply in advance for a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC).

We are not able to validate your supposition of 1 in 10 regarding the likelihood of a UAV striking an unrelated building in the event of a failure. However, the exemptions are based on mitigating risk given the unverified level of knowledge of those operating under the exemptions and without any standardized site specific risk assessment or specific mitigating conditions of an SFOC. Given these factors and the broader spectrum of situations wherein the use of one of the exemptions would be chosen in lieu of applying for an SFOC, it was deemed necessary to prescribe these stand-off distances from to assure an acceptable level of safety. You will also note that these distances are generally more permissive than they were in 2014.

While we are not in a position to put limits on the definition of “animal” the intent is to take reasonable steps to avoid animals that can be reasonably detected and avoided, whether someone’s property or pet, wild animals, or any animals that might be specifically protected under other laws (Criminal Code, Endangered Species Act, Provincial or Municipal Regulations). Certainly the operator has to be in a reasonable position to know of the presence of a given animal and do what is reasonable under the circumstances to prevent undue hazards to wildlife. Securing the operating perimeter against the possible intrusion of squirrels and mice would be beyond reasonable because they are small and difficult to see unless they are the object of the operation, in which case going closer than the specified distances would require an application for an SFOC.

I would like to thank you again for having contacted me, and I hope that I have satisfactorily responded to your questions.
Sincerely,

[Transport Canada]

 

From: Walter Wannamaker, Vertical Specialties
Sent: February 7, 2017
To: Transport Canada
Subject: UAS (drone) exemption and insurance clarifications

Thank you for taking the time to answer my e-mail. I appreciate that you took the time to answer my questions, and would like your permission to pass on your response to other parties that may be interested.

Drone use is becoming a part of the tower industry for inspection and site documentation, as well as hazard assessments and line of site verification. I would like to forward your response to be posted on the STAC (Structures,Towers, and Antennas Council) website, and our own.

Let me know if I may do this, and if there are any qualifiers (i.e. remove your contact info). Thanks.

Could you also clarify the issue of insurance? Most people are of the opinion that Hobby/Personal users do not require liability insurance for drone operation. I have been unable to find any exemption to CAR’s 606.2(8) for Hobby/Personal use. I understand that Transport Canada considers UAV’s to be Aircraft, and as such are subject the CAR’s.

Are Hobby/Personal use UAV’s exempt from the insurance requirements? If so, where would I find the exemption?

Thanks again.

Walter Wannamaker

 

From: Transport Canada
To: Walter Wannamaker, Vertical Specialties
Subject: UAS (drone) exemption and insurance clarifications

Dear Mr. Wannamaker:

Thank you for your email reply to our correspondence dated February 7th, 2017.

Firstly, you have our permission to have my response posted on the Structures, Towers, and Antennas Council (STAC) website. However, any of my contact information, or contact information of Transport Canada personnel must be removed beforehand.

With respects to your second question regarding insurance requirements for Hobby/Personal use of UAVs, I should clarify that, when used for Hobby/Personal use, the aircraft would be considered a model aircraft and as such the regulatory requirements for model aircraft apply. CAR 101.01 defines “model aircraft” as – means an aircraft, the total weight of which does not exceed 35 kg (77.2 pounds), that is mechanically driven or launched into flight for recreational purposes and that is not designed to carry persons or other living creatures; (modèle réduit d’aéronef).

However, CAR 102.01 explicitly excludes model aircraft from being governed by the CARs except where specifically indicated. Therefore, the requirement for insurance under 606.02(8) does not apply to model aircraft.

These Regulations do not apply in respect of:

(a) military aircraft of Her Majesty in right of Canada when they are being manoeuvred under the authority of the Minister of National Defence;
(b) military aircraft of a country other than Canada, to the extent that the Minister of National Defence has exempted them from the application of these Regulations pursuant to subsection 5.9(2) of the Act; or
(c) model aircraft, rockets, hovercraft or wing-in-ground-effect machines, unless otherwise indicated in the Regulations.

The only existing CAR that specifically deals with model aircraft is CAR 602.45 which states:

No person shall fly a model aircraft or a kite or launch a model rocket or a rocket of a type used in a fireworks display into cloud or in a manner that is or is likely to be hazardous to aviation safety.

Finally, please note that the proposed future regulations intend to govern the use of any remotely piloted aircraft (which will all be recognized under the term Unmanned Aircraft System or UAS) be they for recreational purposes or otherwise, will require the owner to have an insurance policy covering third party liability. This new regulation is expected to start being implemented during the early months of 2018.

I hope this answers your question satisfactorily.

Sincerely,

[Transport Canada]