This year the big item of many wish lists is a UAV or drone. We will no doubt see a lot of these under the trees come Christmas morning.
Drones offer are a fabulous means to have a new outdoor recreational experience that can bring any number of educational opportunities such as understanding how a drone works, from aerodynamics, control systems, & communications through to a new ways to shoot photos & video, and even drone racing… The sky is the limit.
But while these are very cool pieces of technology there are a few things owners should know to operate them safely and legally within Canada.
For starters be sure to fully read all the documentation that comes with your drone. Don’t rush out first thing to get it in the air. You could easily lose your shiny new toy if not properly configured or worse yet cause an accident. Be sure to note the battery safety instructions as well, most of these aircraft use Lithium Polymer batteries, which can be very dangerous if damaged or charged incorrectly.
Next be sure to read over the Transport Canada website on drone use. It provides an overview of the rules, regulations, and guidelines for safe use – Flying an unmanned aircraft recreationally
The primary law that exists in regards to recreational drones, or model aircraft, is covered by CAR 602.45:
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.
This is rather vague in terms of what that means in real world terms, however Transport Canada has put together the following guidelines and tips to help people operate safely within the law:
- Fly your aircraft during daylight and in good weather (not in clouds or fog).
- Keep your aircraft in sight, where you can see it with your own eyes – not only through an on-board camera, monitor or smartphone.
- Make sure your aircraft is safe for flight before take-off. Ask yourself, for example, are the batteries fully charged? Is it too cold to fly?
- Know if you need permission to fly and when to apply for a Special Flight Operations Certificate
- Closer than 9 km from any airport, heliport, or aerodrome.
- Higher than 90 metres from above the ground.
- Closer than 150 metres from people, animals, buildings, structures, or vehicles.
- In populated areas or near large groups of people, including sporting events, concerts, festivals, and firework shows.
- Near moving vehicles, avoid highways, bridges, busy streets or anywhere you could endanger or distract drivers.
- Within restricted airspace, including near or over military bases, prisons, and forest fires.
- Anywhere you may interfere with first responders
Over and above the regulations & guidelines from Transport Canada, which primarily deal with the safety of the airspace, you must also respect the Criminal Code as well as all municipal, provincial, and territorial laws related to trespassing and privacy. Most National Parks are off limits to drones without authorization, which was recently brought up in the news – Drones banned in national parks, with exceptions Some cities also have local bylaws that may restrict the use of RC aircraft in certain parks, so do a little research before you fly.
When you do head out pick a large open area away from people, animals, building, and tress for your first flights. The more room you have the more margin of error for when something goes wrong.
If you are flying within an urban area be aware of what is around you. Many hospitals for example have helipads for emergency life flight operations, as well you may have military and other aircraft operating at low attitudes. Helicopters and other aircraft can quickly come up on you if you are focused on your drone, and they have the right of way at all times.
Be sure to fly in good weather, wind and rain can play havoc with these systems, you want to make sure you don’t end up crashing trying to fly in bad weather. Also do not fly through clouds or fog, the drone must be kept within your line of sight at all times.
Seek out a local RC club for help. Many offer free training programs for members and it can get a great way to learn more about the RC hobby. More information on RC in Canada and a list of clubs can be found at MAAC, the Model Aeronautics Association of Canada.
There is also starting to be a number of drone specific training programs becoming available, both online and in person, that can help new pilots understand the rules and how to fly safely. A few include the following:
Take a friend along with you to help keep an eye on the drone and also people and animals that may come up on you. It’s not easy to fly and do crowd control, especially when you are just learning, and people are drawn to these systems so be prepared. When dealing with the public be courteous and explain what you are doing. If you try and hide from it then others may get suspicious of what you are up to, a bit of polite education helps grow the hobby and public image of drones.
Take your time and learn a a slow pace. Get a feel for how the drone handles and reacts and make sure you fully understand how all the various flight modes and safety features work. Learn in small steps progressing from a simple take off and hover through to basic left/right and back/forwards moves and evolving to more complex turns and flight further way. It is tempting to see how far and high you can get but without some basic skills you can quickly get yourself in trouble which could cost you your drone or worse. The following training guide from DJI is a good reference for the steps of learning to fly, while it is specific to the DJI Vision 2+, the same principles apply to most consumer drones – Phantom_2_Vision_Plus_Pilot_Training_Guide_v1.1_en
A further point on Lithium Polymer battery use beyond safety is how they react in cold temperatures, flight time can be greatly reduced in colder weather. Be sure to take that into account and not fly further than you can get back safely, and keep your spare batteries in the vehicle or an inside pocket before use to keep them warm. More info can be found here.
If you see someone else operating a drone unsafely then try and educate them in a friendly way. We all have a role to play in keeping this hobby safe & enjoyable, if it becomes abused by a few uniformed owners we could all lose our access to use them with tighter regulations & restrictions on where and when we can fly.
If you are thinking of using your new drone for work keep in mind commercial use falls under a whole different set of regulations, which are much more restrictive than recreational use. This even applies to doing unpaid work for friends or non profits so be sure to know the details before you try and turn your new hobby into a business. See Canadian Commercial Drone Regulations “For Dummies” for details on what is involved in putting your drone to work.
The main point in all this is use common sense when flying your drone, respect the privacy & space of others and fly safe. With everyone acting responsibly we can all have a great time with these amazing technical wonders.
Have fun, be safe…plan & think ahead.
UPDATE: Transport Canada just released a new update on drone safety: Transport Canada encourages new drone users to learn rules before flying