Illegal Drones – Canada’s Unlevel Playing Field

no-sign-176154With the rapid developments in drone technology and the them becoming a much more recognized device, the commercial market that utilizes them is rapidly growing as well.  New applications arise almost every week, putting the technology in front of more and more people and companies.

Within Canada the regulations around commercial use are fairly well defined by Transport Canada, and the SFOC process allows businesses to make commercial use of drones, which is not the case in all countries.

All industries have their rules and regulations, you don’t open a food truck without a permit and related red tape to deal with, the same is true of UAVs/drones, there is a framework and system that must be worked within to operate legally and safely.

In this rapid growth period a lot of new businesses are popping up offering various drone based services, many very unique and innovative. The issue however is some are not doing it legally and this leads to an unfair & unsafe marketplace.

The main offenders fall into two main areas:

  • Those using drones unaware that there are regulations for commercial use.
  • Those using drones and choosing to ignore or skirt the laws.

The first group is mostly a result of limited exposure to the existence of the rules.  Many coming into the industry have no aviation background, and some no business background at all, so there is no underlying knowledge or sense of what regulations may exist or even where to look.  Most when given the information are willing to do what is needed to work legally within the system.

Transport Canada has been running a social media campaign to help spread the message, although it doesn’t reach the full audience so there will always be those unaware of these rules.  Those in the industry should do what they can to help educate new potential users, as in the long run it helps the industry develop in a safe and stable manner.  Through the Flitelab blog we have been sharing information as best we can to help inform and educate, even though in the end those learning could become our competitor, we see it as part of being an active member of a growing industry.

It is the second group where the real problems exist. These people/companies openly ignore the rules for their own benefit.  They are not concerned with the health of the industry so much as they are on saving and making a few dollars, even though in the long run it may be costing them more with money lost due to crashes, fines, and accident claims.  By ignoring the regulations they put their clients and the public at risk as they are not held to the restrictions and safety requirements that legal operators must work within.  They fly when and where they like and are concerned only with their immediate needs of the day.  More than few stories have circulated within the UAV community of such and such a company that crashed a drone they just bought to do a job with no previous knowledge or training, they just show up on location and hope for the best. When asked about regulations they simply ignore or change the subject, deem them unneeded, or have feel there is little chance of getting caught so they go on about their business the way they see fit.

For the long term success of the industry, especially for the smaller independent operators, there needs to be an environment of “co-opetition” to help build a long term healthy and professional industry.  If we do not manage the industry then someone else will and it may not be to our best interests.  Part of this co-opetition involves helping to manage the industry as a whole an ensuring no forces are damaging it.  The media is quick to jump on any story involving a “drone” and recently there have been a rash of less than positive stories involving drones.  The public are developing a negative attitude towards drones and their use as a result, which impacts the professional operators in the end.  Cities are starting to impose by-laws and restrictions over when and where these systems can be used.

Transport Canada has limited resources to properly enforce the UAV regulations, most often this is done through reports from the public or those in the industry via CAIRS. Without this feedback the authorities in most cases will not even be aware of illegal flights and illegal operators and they will continue working outside the rules.

While no one generally wants to be seen as the “police” or a “rat” within an industry, there is a point where some level of responsibility falls on the shoulders of the core stakeholders, and those involved usually are on the front lines of the day to day work being done and see the good and the bad uses of drones. Again the first step should always be to educate but when an offender obviously has no intention of trying to comply with the laws there is little left to do but report them to those in charge.

Part of the education process also involves educating clients.  Most are unaware of the regulations involved in drone based aerial work, they assume the provider is working on the up and up and has that all under control.  Unfortunately these operators that are outside the system often ignore these “details” with the client.  This leads to confusion in the marketplace where a client is  getting mixed messages on what is doable. A potential customer often just sees the quote, and not the details of what it involves or which operator is legally doing the work vs those skirting the rules and thus reducing their time and expenses.

We all have a part to play in growing a healthy industry.  It is the early days of drones and much like the wild west there will be those on both sides of the law looking to stake a claim.

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