Author: flitelab

Servicing the commercial and recreational Canadian UAV market. From parts & components, to consulting & support, through to full aerial imaging services.

New Canadian Drone Regulations – Site Survey

One item that may seem obvious to some but not others is the requirement to do a site survey prior to any flights under the new regulations.

As per the CARs:

Site Survey
901.27 No pilot shall operate a remotely piloted aircraft system unless, before commencing operations, they determine that the site for take-off, launch, landing or recovery is suitable for the proposed operation by conducting a site survey that takes into account the following factors:

(a) the boundaries of the area of operation;
(b) the type of airspace and the applicable regulatory requirements;
(c) the altitudes and routes to be used on the approach to and departure from the area of operation;
(d) the proximity of manned aircraft operations;
(e) the proximity of aerodromes, airports and heliports;
(f) the location and height of obstacles, including wires, masts, buildings, cell phone towers and wind turbines;
(g) the predominant weather and environmental conditions for the area of operation; and
(h) the horizontal distances from persons not involved in the operation.

This process has been mandatory for sometime for commercial SFOC holders, but for new users or previous recreational flyers it is something to keep in mind.

The process is really about knowing your surroundings in order to know where it is safe to fly and elements to avoid.  A simple step beyond merely jumping out and flying.

The biggest and most complex part of this may be knowing the airspace and where nearby airports and helipads may be.  Many not familiar with manned aviation may be unaware especially of helipads on nearby buildings for example.  Currently there are not a lot of easy to use tools readily accessible to the general public for determine this. Online tools like the the NRC Site Selection Tool are not 100% accurate and at this stage not been updated to reflect the new regulations.  There are third party tools available such as Airmarket FLYSAFE which now have a free recreational version.  Hopefully TC will work to provide better solutions in this area.


New Canadian Drone Regulations – Weather/Environmental Factors

With the new  Canadian drone regulations that come into effect June 1 2019 are some changes to the weather and environmental factors around when and where you can operate a drone/uav/rpas.

Gone are the minimum ceiling and visibility restrictions of the prior regulations.  Now the main factor is being able to keep the aircraft within line of sight.

Minimum Weather Conditions
901.34 No pilot shall operate a remotely piloted aircraft system unless the weather conditions at the time of flight permit

(a) the operation to be conducted in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions; and
(b) the pilot of the system and any visual observer to conduct the entire flight within visual line-of-sight.

The biggest item in the above that may catch some out is “in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions” which implies within the specified operating limits such as temperature and wind speed.

On a DJI Phantom 4 Pro for example it has an Operating Temperature Range 32° to 104°F (0° to 40°C), which could restrict use during much of the year in Canada.

In addition as before, care must be taken around potential icing conditions as well:

901.35 (1) No pilot shall operate a remotely piloted aircraft system when icing conditions are observed, are reported to exist or are likely to be encountered along the route of flight unless the aircraft is equipped with de-icing or anti-icing equipment and equipment designed to detect icing.

(2) No pilot shall operate a remotely piloted aircraft system with frost, ice or snow adhering to any part of the remotely piloted aircraft.

As before you must keep clear of clouds as a general safety condition:

602.45 No person shall fly 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.

One big allowance now for many recreational users that had been limited to SFOC holders before is the ability to fly at night:

Night Flight Requirements
901.39 (1) No pilot shall operate a remotely piloted aircraft system during the night unless the remotely piloted aircraft is equipped with position lights sufficient to allow the aircraft to be visible to the pilot and any visual observer, whether with or without night-vision goggles, and those lights are turned on.

(2) No pilot shall operate a remotely piloted aircraft system using night-vision goggles unless the goggles are capable of, or the person has another means of, detecting all light within the visual spectrum.

Aerodromes vs Airports

One area of confusion when it comes to dealing with Transport Canada aviation regulations is the subtle differences between aerodrome and airport.  While the definitions are very similar and overlap there are slight differences that impact which regulations may apply and how they are applied.

The following document on the TC website provides further details:

Aerodrome or airport—what’s the difference?
The terms airport and aerodrome are often used interchangeably by the aviation industry; legislation and regulation—at least in Canada—make primary use of the latter. For instance, the Canadian Aeronautics Act defines an aerodrome as:

“Any area of land, water (including the frozen surface thereof) or other supporting surface used, designed, prepared, equipped or set apart for use either in whole or in part for the arrival, departure movement or servicing thereon or associated therewith.”

Aerodrome categories
There are three different categories of aerodromes, each presenting progressively different safety requirements. In order of ascending safety level, the categories are listed below:

  • aerodromes (small airstrips located on private property that are neither registered nor certified),
  • registered aerodromes, and
  • certified aerodromes, referred to as airports.

Registered aerodromes
While listed, registered aerodromes are not certified as airports in the Canada Flight Supplement (CFS)—a publication for pilots containing operating information for registered aerodromes and airports. Registered aerodromes are not subject to ongoing inspection by Transport Canada; however, they are inspected periodically to verify compliance with Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs) and to ensure the accuracy of information published in the CFS and the Water Aerodrome Supplement (WAS). In spite of these efforts, pilots planning to use a registered aerodrome are still expected to contact aerodrome operators to confirm CFS information is current.

Certified aerodromes
Airports are aerodromes certified under Subsection 302.03 of the CARs. Despite regulations that govern registered and non-registered aerodromes, the onus remains on a pilot to determine whether an aerodrome is safe and suitable. Regulations are in place primarily to protect those unfamiliar with an airport environment—the fare-paying public and those residing in the vicinity who could be affected by unsafe airport operations.

So it summary, an airport is a certified aerodrome as per the Canadian Flight Supplement & Water Aerodrome Supplement designations.

New Canadian Drone Regulations – People, Buildings, Vehicles

One of the biggest changes in  the new Canadian drone regulations on Jan 9 2019 are around minimum distances allowed to people, buildings, and vehicles.

Gone are the restrictions to buildings and vehicles for both Basic and Advanced operations.  The primary requirement being to stay 30M from bystanders.  Flights over vehicles and buildings are permitted, as long as their are no freestanding people.

Horizontal Distance

901.26 Subject to paragraph 901.69(1)(b) or (c), no pilot shall operate a remotely piloted aircraft at a distance of less than 100 feet (30 m) from another person, measured horizontally and at any altitude, except from a crew member or other person involved in the operation.

The exclusion of occupied vehicles and buildings was confirmed by Katelin Klassen of COASTAL DRONE in a recent review with the TC RPAS Task Force:

The 100′ horizontal distance from people mentioned in CAR 901.26 means freestanding bodies. “People” does not refer to those in cars or buildings. Asking people to step inside while you fly is totally reasonable under the new regulations.

One additional item of note near buildings is the ability to exceed the base 400′ AGL altitude limit as well, allowing 100′ above the structure if you are within 200′:

Maximum Altitude

901.25 (1) Subject to subsection (2), no pilot shall operate a remotely piloted aircraft at an altitude greater than

(a) 400 feet (122 m) AGL; or
(b) 100 feet (30 m) above any building or structure, if the aircraft is being operated at a distance of less than 200 feet (61 m), measured horizontally, from the building or structure.

For Advanced operations the distance to bystanders can be further reduced, but is dependent on the assurance level the manufacture has approved for the UAV.  The details on the specifics are still unknown and TBA by TC.

901.69 (1) Subject to subsection (2), no pilot shall operate a remotely piloted aircraft system under this Division to conduct any of the following operations unless a declaration under section 901.76 has been made in respect of that model of system and the certificate of registration issued in respect of the aircraft specifies the operations for which the declaration was made:

(a) operations in controlled airspace;
(b) operations at a distance of less than 100 feet (30 m) but not less than 16.4 feet (5 m) from another person except from a crew member or other person involved in the operation, measured horizontally and at any altitude; or
(c) operations at a distance of less than 16.4 feet (5 m) from another person, measured horizontally and at any altitude.

The exception to this is at advertised events.  These will still require an SFOC for drone operations.

Special Aviation Events and Advertised Events

901.41 (1) No pilot shall operate a remotely piloted aircraft system at any special aviation event or at any advertised event except in accordance with a special flight operations certificate — RPAS issued under section 903.03.

(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), advertised event means an outdoor event that is advertised to the general public, including a concert, festival, market or sporting event.

New Canadian Drone Exams – Asking Stupid Questions

With the release of the new Canadian drone regulations on Jan 9 2019 came the requirement for all users to pass either a Basic or Advanced online exam.

The supposed purpose of the exams were to ensure user knowledge, especially when it comes to safe use of drones, so as to ensure there are no ongoing issues near airports or the public that could result in accidents.

However this is where things go off the rails.  Instead of exams that focus on the safe use of the aircraft, focusing on the regulations around when and where you can fly, the exam goes off on tangents at times, pulling endless aviation jargon and technical details into the mix.

While we cannot go into the specifics on questions, as that would violate the regulations, case in point is a question around the definition of a “stabilator“.  Given that the vast majority of consumer drones are quadcopters, such as those commonly sold by DJI, which do not have traditional fixed wing control surfaces, especially less common ones as a stabilator, we question the purpose and logic of questions like this even being in the mix.

Others dig into the details of laminar flow and reading VNC charts.  Perhaps the Minister is hoping to develop the next generation of astronauts…

Many of the questions seem to be pulled directly from an existing pool for full scale manned aviation, not ones tailored to drones or the consumer market.

When you ask obtuse obscure irrelevant questions you lose the opportunity to educate and merely make clear to the user the pointlessness of the exam itself.  Instead of trying to learn in the process, users hitting these type of questions become frustrated and merely cheat their way through to get it over with, and see it is little more than a hurdle of red tape.

It would be like asking to explain how a limited-slip differential works during a driving test.  I suspect most would fail.

In a very limited test of 30 questions you have a small opportunity to try and stress the critical elements, which presumably are around safe use, so the focus of the exam should be towards those elements, once that every user needs to know and understand, not 1% edge cases or interesting aeronautical tidbits & definitions.

We have seen many causes already of people simply Googling the answers and in some cases asking for help in real time on social media for the answers.  A recent case on Facebook had one person posting screenshots of the test as he went asking others to give the answers.  After failing the test 3 previous times he was finally able to pass with the feedback provided.  What exactly does this accomplish when it comes to aviation and public safety?

Transport Canada has missed the mark with their approach in the new regulations, especially around the exams.  They clearly do not understand the target audience both in terms of what they should know to fly safely or even in terms of using everyday common language vs technical aviation jargon.

If you want an effective set of regulations they need to be easy to understand, easy to follow, and easy to enforce.  If they are not then people will either find work arounds or ignore them all together.  The new drone regulations for Canada miss on all marks.

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.