Simpler drone regulations to come into effect this June

Commercial drone operations around Canadian communications towers will become much easier to complete under proposed regulations that are slated to take effect this spring.

In a notice posted in the Canada Gazette Pt. II on January 9, Transport Canada laid out a new regulatory regime that will harmonize commercial and recreational-use regulations for most drone operations, so long as the drone involved weighs less than 25 kg and has been registered with Transport Canada by the owner.

The regulations, which will mostly come into force on June 1, would also remove the requirement to apply for a Special Flight Operation Certificate (SFOC) for each individual flight, eliminating a process that often served as a barrier to would-be new pilots and companies that wanted to run their own in-house UAV operations. Instead, the new regulatory regime will require drone operators to maintain one of two pilot certifications issued by the federal department.

“The amendments to the [regulations] will reduce the number of operations that require Special Flight Operations Certificates (SFOC) for remotely piloted aircraft with a maximum take-off weight between 250 g and 25 kg and operated within visual line-of-sight (VLOS),” Transport Canada said in a regulatory impact analysis contained within the Canada Gazette notice. “The amendments will reduce risks to public safety through pilot certification and will also introduce [drone] safety-based manufacturing requirements intended for certain operations.”

Under the new regime, individuals who pass Transport Canada’s “Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems — Basic Operations” exam will gain certification to carry out most types of drone operations, subject to certain limitations. Some of those limitations include:

  • The drone must remain within the visual line-of-sight (VLOS) of the pilot or a designated visual observer at all times.
  • The drone must maintain a distance of at least 100 feet (30 m) from all other persons, “measured horizontally and at any altitude,” except for crew members or other persons involved in the operation.
  • The drone must not exceed 400 feet (122 m) above ground level unless operating within 200 feet of a building or structure (measured horizontally), in which case the drone must not operate more than 100 feet (30 m) above the building or structure.
  • The drone must not enter controlled airspace.
  • The drone must remain at least one nautical mile from the centre of all heliports and three nautical miles from the centre of all airports or from the centre of any other aerodromes “operated under the authority of the Minister of National Defence.”

A second certification will also be available for pilots who wish to conduct drone operations that do not conform to these restrictions. Pilots who complete the “Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems – Advanced Operations” exam will be given additional latitude, including the ability to:

  • Fly within controlled airspace.
  • Fly within 100 feet of other persons, so long as the drone remains at least 16.4 feet (5 m) from other persons, other than crew members or others involved in the operation.
  • Fly within 16.4 (5 m) of other crew members or other persons involved in the operation.
  • Fly within one nautical mile from the centre of a heliport or within three nautical miles from the centre of an airport.

Additionally, drones over 250 g that are used for commercial purposes will no longer need to be registered with Transport Canada on its list of compliant drones. Instead, the department will require drone manufacturers to provide a “Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems Safety Assurance” for each drone model before those models can be used for Advanced Operations.

Those who participated in the drafting of STAC’s submission to Transport Canada following the initial release of proposed new regulations in May 2017 will note one other important omission from the new regulations: The department has moved away from differentiating between basic and advanced operations based on their proximity to a “built-up area.” This omission should help reduce the confusion caused by the poorly defined term, which left uncertainty as to whether a tower shelter or nearby roadway would be cause for an operation to be subject to additional regulation.

Another highlight from the new regulatory regime includes a prohibition on individuals from flying a drone or serving as part of a flight crew while intoxicated or within 12 hours of consuming alcohol.
The new regulations will also formally prohibit operators from flying “over or within the security perimeter established by a public authority in response to an emergency,” or from flying over any “advertised event,” such as a concerts, festivals, markets and sporting events that are promoted to the public.

Transport Canada also called for additional restrictions on flying drones at night or in severe weather conditions.

While SFOCs will still be required to fly drones weighing more than 25 kg, to fly beyond the visual line of sight, and under other specific circumstances, the new regulations remove the need to obtain a certificate for each individual flight, and should make it far more efficient and economical to use drones on standard tower inspections.

As always, STAC encourages all of its members to ensure they fully comprehend the new drone regulations – which include a number of requirements not outlined here – prior to planning or conducting any drone operations.

Related documents and pages:

Special thanks to Kevin Toderel from Gap Wireless for contributing to this post.