With the recent new recreational regulations announced on March 16 by the Minister of Transport there has under gone a major change from basically a free for all on recreational use to almost a complete ban in many areas.
New regulations to control recreational drone use were definitely needed, and something commercial UAV operators have been working under for many years. Prior to this announcement users could basically fly anywhere they wanted as long as no manned aircraft was put in danger. While many people operated with common sense, there were a few that pushed the limits flying over concerts, roadways, near airports and aircraft, and being a nuisance to general public.
As well the recreational openness became a loophole for some to skirt proper commercial use requirements, flying in the guise of “fun” only to later use the footage they collected for commercial purposes, or as part of “passion projects” that were beyond the spirit of the recreational laws. This created an unfair systems with those trying to work legally within the system.
While most of the new laws already existed prior as guidelines, they were not enforceable as such. With the growing use of drones and ongoing abuse there was little left for the regulators to do but impose common sense on everyone to address the issues caused by a few.
The main reasoning the Minister expressed as for the need for the changes were the growing number of reports of incidents with aircraft and the public.
While reports certainly have increased as more people have purchased drones, it should also be noted that a report alone does not mean an incident happened. As well many of the reports were never proven to be drones in all cases, in some it later turned out to be balloons or even plastic bags. To date there has been no confirmed case of an actual direct incident with an aircraft anywhere in the world, which is amazing given the millions of drones being flown. While the potential of an accident is real, fear mongering over the reality is not the approach we would like to see to cause change. Fear of “what-ifs” shouldn’t ground and entire industry and hobby.
Another concern in the announcement was the Minister suggesting that people call 911 when a drone is seen possibly flying illegally. While this may be appropriate if a serious event were happening, such as someone flying near crowds or aircraft, to suggest this for any potential violation is not a wise approach in our view. The 911 system and police are already overloaded, running down complaints from people seeing drones in the park is not a good use of these resources. As well commercial operators with permission to fly in these areas will no doubt be misreported as the general public is not in a position to know who can fly where.
What is needed is a fair and balanced approach where people still can enjoy the hobby safely and those that abuse it can be dealt with. Making it impossible for most to fly, many of which had been doing so safely for years, merely makes criminals of everyone.
While many of the newly announced measure make sense they broad reach of deeming every aerodrome, no matter how small or infrequently used a no fly zone eliminates many areas that had been used for flying. The 250′ requirement also prevents many from even flying on their own property even in rural areas. Something slightly scaled back on both of these items could still account for safety and add some freedom of use.
Further more, the terminology used in any regulations needs to be clear and understandable to the target audience. Already we are seeing confusion around what these new rules apply to, what is a model vs a UAV, what is an aerodrome and where are they located? Without the proper information and tools it is almost impossible for the general public to even comply. The regulations need to be part of a larger program to educate and assist in safe use.
Enforcement is also key to any law being effective. Many of the violations prior to the change could have been dealt with under existing laws, such as those doing commercial work without the proper permits, however there was little to no enforcement with often only 1 or 2 fines issued every 6 months, and in most of those cases it was violations by actual permit holders. Unless these new regulations are properly enforced they will only restrict those that showed responsibility and the abusers will continue to do so. Making an example of a few of the bad apples would do more than any press release and overreaching restrictions ever will.
Commercial operators should also take note of where Transport Canada is headed with these tight restrictions. What is applied to recreational now will no doubt have some run over into commercial operators as well, especially those smaller companies using consumer/prosumer aircraft. The proposed new regulations already hint at restrictions on where certain UAVs may be allowed, forcing operators to either buy more expensive Compliant platforms or shutdown.
It should be noted that these new laws are an Interim Order, and that new regulations for all remote aircraft are currently being developed. As was mentioned a complete overhaul is planned to be announced in June. This will most likely involve a licensing/permit approach where users will need to pass an exam, which is a much improved approach, and involves education & knowledge for the user. These new laws however probably will not go into effect until 2018 and the details around where even license holders may be able to fly is still not fully known. Those interested in the direction it is heading can read the NPA initial draft that was released in May 2015 and will form the base for the new laws.
UAVs/drones/model aircraft are an amazing new technology and here to stay. They have great potential to do good and be a great hobby and means to get kids and others into technology and sciences. A broad reaching ban is not the way to handle disruptive technology just because of the misuse of a few.