Transport Canada UAV NPA Review Part 4 – Recreational Model Aircraft

Under the new NPA released by Transport Canada one of the biggest potential changes in relation to what is deemed a model aircraft and how some recreational use may now fall under the commercial regulations.

Under the current framework, Transport Canada makes the distinction between recreational and nonrecreational operations.

The Canadian Aviation Regulations currently have separate definitions and requirements for model aircraft and unmanned air vehicles:

A model aircraft is “an aircraft, the total weight of which does not exceed 35kgs (77.2 pounds), that is mechanically driven or launched into flight for recreational purposes”. However, for a large model aircraft with a maximum take-off weight of over 35kgs, users need an SFOC.

A UAV is “a power-driven aircraft, other than a model aircraft, that is designed to fly without a human operator on board” and is required to operate in accordance with an SFOC”.

Under the proposed regulations defined in the NPA Model Aircraft would fall under the new rule making.

The objective of this portion of the proposed rulemaking activity is to define a regulatory approach that will allow traditional modellers to continue to conduct safe flight activities.

While the proposed rule is intended to establish requirements for safely operating UAV systems in Canadian airspace, there is a model aircraft component to this rulemaking activity. The rule proposes to address UAVs used for any and all purposes and intends to provide a “carve-out” for modellers operating within an aeromodelling organization that allows the continued activities (sport/ recreation and competition) that model aircraft enthusiasts have enjoyed for decades. As such, the proposal is to only better define what constitutes a model aircraft and to that end Transport Canada is inviting feedback on the following proposed solutions.

Approach 1: To provide a means to recognize aeromodelling organizations, such as the Model Aeronautics Association of Canada (MAAC), that have a proven safety record, a mature piloting community and provide a well established set of safety guidelines.

  • launching model aircraft for recreational purposes who are members in good standing of an aeromodelling organization and operate under its safety guidelines would not be required to meet the requirements of the proposed rule.
  • not participating in the safety program established by an aeromodelling organization would no longer be considered to be operating model aircraft and would have to comply with the proposed rule for UAV operations.

Approach 2: Transport Canada may consider model aircraft equipped with a camera payload, excluding first person view (FPV) devices to no longer be a model aircraft, but a UAV, and subject to the UAV rules. The rationale is that persons using the aircraft to take pictures or videos would in fact be conducting surveillance or collecting data, so launching the aircraft for a secondary purpose (e.g. as a flying camera) other than recreational flying only.

It remains the objective of this portion of the proposed rulemaking activity to define a regulatory approach that will allow the continued safe conduct of the flight activities currently undertaken by traditional modellers.

We feel that this is a good move in order to get a better handle on the rapid growth of UAVs within the recreational market and also a way to better manage the grey area between commercial and recreational use.

Currently commercial operators are held to much higher standards and restrictions than recreational users.  In many cases recreational users blur the lines and often use their systems for direct or indirect commercial end uses.

The proposed changes would help eliminate much of the confusion and grey area and level the playing field as well as provide a meas to better enforce air regulations and maintain safety.

It should also be noted that FPV use is excluded from the UAV regulations in Approach 2, although many FPV systems also record onboard video so it will be interesting how this specific distinction is managed and applied.

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