New Canadian Drone Regulations – Putting an Industry in Limbo

After years of drafts, reworks, and delays, Transport Canada finally released the new Canadian drone regulations on Jan 9 2019.  Set to come into effect on June 1 2019, the regulations are still missing key details when it comes to Advanced operations involving compliant/SAFE assured drones.

Under the changes, any flights done within controlled airspace or near aerodromes require a compliant/SAFE assured drone.  Many commonly used systems, such as those from DJI, Yuneec, Freefly, and others are not on the existing compliant list and details required for manufacturers to submit systems to the list are still not published.

As such much of the industry are in a wait and see limbo phase where many operators do not know when or if their existing drones may be usable or what new UAVs they may have to purchase and at what cost to move forward.

While the existing list has systems that can be used, many do not meet the needs for certain application, such as TV/film work as one example.  Many are older industrial focused aircraft, and carry a much higher price tag than consumer/prosumer drones used by many smaller operators across the country.

Originally Transport Canada had stated there would be a 6 month transition period from the announcement to enforcement, however with core documents still not published the time-frame shrinks even more from the less than 5 months given.

Manufacturers, such as DJI, are waiting on these specifics to decide how they will move forward and what systems they may submit for assurance:

A key component of these new rules is the Safety Assured Flight Envelope system, through which manufacturers will declare that their drones are suitable for use in advanced operations, such as over people or in controlled airspace. DJI will be examining the details of the SAFE system with the goal of participating in it, to continue to provide leading products for our commercial and enterprise customers in Canada.

While we expect more manufacturers will come on-board, it is doubtful that all systems will be added, especially older units, with potential focus on only enterprise level to be available.  The time frame for new systems getting approved is also unknown and could possibly run past June 1.  Time will tell where this goes as manufactures review the time, costs, and associated liability of making submissions.

Alan Auld, a commercial operator in Ontario stated:

I was awarded a city contract for this summer that I’ll have to give up as a result. I’m a small business (filmmaker) who’s had a standing for three years without issue using DJI products. I can’t justify the approved equipment for the market I’m in so I’ll be walking away.

Alan, like many other small commercial operators, has been operating for years under the Special Flight Operations Certificate(SFOC) process, flying safely and legally within controlled airspace without issue.  A process that required liability insurance, which is oddly not even required under the new regulations.  Come June 1 what was once deemed allowable and safe by Transport Canada ends, and unapproved UAVs sent to collect dust.

Businesses trying to plan upcoming work beyond June 1 or that have ongoing contracts with clients throughout the year are now left in the dark.

Art Raham of Shadow Art Camera Services in Edmonton commented:

I had discussions with two clients yesterday wanting to quote on projects for the summer. Both disappointed that I couldn’t guarantee my availability or day rate past June 1.

Transport Canada is giving no prior credit for safe & legal operation for existing commercial operators, it is comply on June 1 with new regulations fully or be grounded.  Years of ongoing flight operations count towards nothing in regards to the flight review that is required under an Advance certificate either.

While most operators are in favor of the general concepts of the new regulations, the big gotcha is the compliant/assured UAVs that put ongoing businesses at risk in this transition.

As an interim solution we would suggest that Transport Canada grandfather in systems currently in use by operators under SFOCs until the end of life of those UAVs, or as a minimum extend the implementation of the new regulations to January 1 2020 so as to provide a proper transitional period, along with an exception from the flight review.  This would allow existing operators to maintain their businesses over the immediate future with minimal change while allowing time for planning a new path forward.

While the new regulations are being touted by Transport Canada as a major step forward, the reality is many businesses are left hovering in place not knowing if they can fly come June.

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