At first glance, Canada’s proposed new drone regulations seem like a big step forward for the drone industry. With clear risk-based categories and remote pilot licensing system, the regulations appear to eliminate much of the burden of filing for SFOCs and other paperwork that Canadian drone operators deal with.
But like everything else, says professional operator Mike Campbell of CKMM Photographic in Ontario, the devil’s in the details.
” The regulation is 78 pages,” says Campbell. “It’s one of the longest regulation updates that has ever been published. It’s a big deal from a regulator’s perspective -but there are a lot of holes and issues with it.” Campbell agrees that the pilot permitting process, removal of the medical requirement for pilots, and not having to file SFOCs are useful. But, he points out, there is a major point in the proposal with the potential to be an industry-killer: the requirement for a “compliant aircraft” for commercial operations in urban areas.
At first read, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to require that aircraft be manufactured to a standard – not all home-grown machines are suitable for commercial use, although some are excellent. But Campbell points out that the requirement isn’t a guideline and it isn’t general – it refers to an actual list of compliant aircraft. A very short list of very expensive aircraft. “Typically, compliant aircraft cost 4 -10X what a standard prosumer drone costs,” says Campbell. “That’s a business-killer.”
Campbell, who is a member of the Unmanned Systems Canada committee preparing a response to the proposal and a volunteer on the technical committee, says that none of the DJI, Yuneec or other major manufacturer prosumer drones are on the list even though they are the aircraft most widely used by commercial operators. And while operators initially assumed that a “grandfather clause” would cover them until lawmakers expanded the list to cover more aircraft, the fine print says that won’t fix the problem for urban areas. Operators who want to grandfather their aircraft will only be allowed to fly in rural areas 1/2 nautical mile from a “built up” area. “It’s something that you have to be a policy nerd to pick up,” says Campbell. “… in reality, that grandfather clause just doesn’t help commercial operators.”
While the compliant aircraft requirement is the main point of contention, “There’s a lot of little silliness that doesn’t belong in there,” says Campbell. He points out that items like defining a 20-meter radius takeoff and landing area belong in the operational procedures for organizations, not in federal regulations. And defining the time periods that the government has to respond to requests to fly in controlled airspace doesn’t make sense – it doesn’t allow for or encourage process improvements.
Campbell says that most operators are totally in favor of regulations – they just want to be sure that they’re reasonable and timely. And while he’s not against the idea of compliant aircraft, he feels it’s just too soon to implement that type of program: “They’re just spinning up the groups on the Transport Canada side… we need a transition period, we need time for the manufacturers to get a roadmap in place.” If the rules are enacted as they stand, Canadian drone operators will suffer. “We risk going from leader to laggard,” says Campbell.
The main message for Canadian drone operators? Comment now. “This is the time to get your concerns lodged with Transport,” says Campbell. Transport Canada is accepting public comment on the regulations until October 13, 2017. Those wishing to comment may participate in an online forum, attend one of the remaining public engagement sessions, or comment by email sent to [email protected]
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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