by Stephen Dafoe
Canada’s Federal Minister of Transport, Marc Garneau, imposed new rules that will affect recreational drone pilots in Canada. The new regulations, which came into effect immediately when announced two weeks ago, put strict limitations on people using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) near airports, buildings, and people.
Garneau’s motivation behind imposing the regulations stems from what the federal government says is a tripling of near-misses between commercial aircraft and drones between 2014 and 2016. According to Transport Canada, last year saw 148 incidents reported, a significant increase from 2015 and 2014 numbers.
Under the new rules, hobbyists cannot fly UAVs higher than 90 metres (295 feet). Drone pilots must also stay within 75 metres (246 feet) of buildings, people, and animals. Flying within nine kilometres of an airport is forbidden as is flying a drone at night. Violations carry a $3000 per infraction fine.
While Garneau’s new rules are in response to increased cause for concern, one Morinville drone hobbyist says the new rules affect people like himself who have worked hard to fly responsibly and help teach others to do the same.
Dustan McLean has been flying drones for a few years, working his way up to larger units that he says are not only fun to fly but are capable of providing amateur photographers and filmmakers with a lens in the sky.
“They’ve made it 100 per cent more restrictive to fly and be a hobbyist in it,” McLean said. “They’ve made it, so you’ll have to be out in the middle of a field with nothing around, and that really limits where you can fly as an amateur photographer or amateur filmmakers. We won’t be able to do any of that anymore.”
McLean went on to say he believes 90 per cent of drone enthusiasts are responsible pilots who take safety seriously and spend a lot of time on social media groups offering good advice on how to get into the hobby, how to start off with smaller units to learn skills, and how to fly safely.
Beyond that, McLean said responsible drone pilots had spent time educating the public on the positive side of UAVs. That public education extended to informing MPs when they were considering drone regulations.
Members of several Facebook groups McLean belongs to contacted their MPs or MLAs on drones, offering expert advice to government on potential regulations, including requiring a course for certain sized drones, licensing, and registering owners with serial numbers at the point of purchase. The input was offered in the interest of keeping the public safe while allowing pilots to enjoy their hobby.
“After we all talked about this, there was nothing. Nothing. It was just ‘OK. Thanks for the info but we’re just going to go this way with it’ And they just gave us the new rules,” McLean said.
“I won’t be able to film now as an amateur. Fireworks at night? You are not able to fly at night at all now.”
“It’s frustrating that the hobbyists are going to suffer because of a few bad people,” McLean said, noting that flight operation certificates through Transport Canada will now be required for all flights outside of empty fields.
That process involves ensuring the pilot has a spotter, something McLean sees as responsible flying. The pilot also has to fill out a lot of paperwork with specifics on the when, where, and how of the flight.
“It’s just made it so it’s a hassle now,” McLean said. “The hobby stores that are selling these are going to suffer. They already are down in the States.”
McLean fears the new regulations will make cowboys out of a lot of some pilots who will not want to follow the cumbersome rules.
“People have figured out how to crack the software in these so that the [elevation] limiters are taken off. It’s that kind of people – the five to ten per cent – that have made a mess of this situation and given everybody a bad name. We had a person in South Glens flying at night and bothering people. That kind of stuff. It’s so frustrating for me as a hobbyist – someone who loves being able to go and fly for 20 minutes. It’s a relaxing and fun hobby.”
McLean is not alone in flying in and around Morinville. Morinville Community High School’s television program MCTV owns and operates a drone, purchased with community grant money from Champion Petfoods.
Teacher Greg Boutestein told Morinville News in an email interview that the school and MCTV have no problem with the new rules.
“Safety to aircraft is of particular concern, and responsible drone use is every UAV operator’s responsibility,” Boutestein said. “As with the previous regulations, MCHS is committed to following the new laws regarding UAVs. One adjustment we will need to make is to mark our drone with the school’s name, address, and phone number. That will occur before our first flight of 2017. The drone hasn’t flown since November 2016 due to colder weather conditions during the winter.”
But while opinions on the new rules will vary from one pilot to another, McLean is hoping people who were thinking of getting into the hobby will still do so.
He recommends that people interested in flying drones now join one of the many flying clubs that can be found online – clubs that are not only for drones but remote controlled aircraft of all types.
“Join one of them, and you’ll know you are sanctioned and good to go,” he said. “That’s my best advice to people wanting to fly.”
For further information on the new rules visit www.tc.gc.ca/eng/civilaviation/opssvs/flying-drone-safely-legally.html.