Upcoming drone regulations and soaring use provide opportunities and challenges

As the popularity of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, continues to soar, two experts weigh in on what could be coming in terms of regulation, safety and privacy.

New Transport Canada rules are around the corner, but will they go far enough to protect privacy?

Sterling Cripps of Medicine Hat-based Canadian Unmanned Incorporated, says drone use has exploded in recent years to include transportation, law enforcement, forestry and engineering and survey groups. (Dale G. Young/Detroit News/The Associated Press)

As the popularity of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, continues to soar, two experts weigh in on what could be coming in terms of regulation, safety and privacy.

Sterling Cripps is the founder and president of Canadian Unmanned Incorporated, a Medicine Hat-based UAV training operation. He says one of the big challenges moving forward is stressing the importance of safety and regulatory compliance.

"It's about making sure that people are aware that there is a right and a wrong way to do this," Cripps told Alberta@Noonon Monday.

"To fly in a busy downtown area, such as Calgary, you are in Class C airspace from the ground up to 3,000 feet right out to past Springbank. In order to fly legally in this airspace, you have to have permission from Transport Canada and be on a Nav Canada operators list so that you can fly safely. In order to get that, you have to have a special flight operating certificate from Transport Canada, which also includes insurance and procedures for mitigating risks. How would you deal with a fly away or a crash or something like that? That's the challenge that we have, is making sure the operators are educated and trained in dealing with emergencies in this realm."

Cripps has spent the last year training about 500 users across the country. He says the applications for UAVs have expanded a lot in recent years.

"I have worked with all three levels of government — federal, provincial and civic — in terms of their environmental applications, transportation, law enforcement, forestry. But I have also worked with mining companies, individual forest companies, pulp and paper, construction, Aboriginal and Indigenous groups as well, that are looking after land management. Where I am seeing the rubber really hit the road, is the engineering and the survey groups," he said.

"These drones make excellent tools for them to create their craft and capture the data they can get from a different type of angle using a drone."

News rules being considered

But as Transport Canada considers new rules for drones, privacy should be a consideration alongside safety, a specialized lawyer says.

"Unfortunately, for recreational drone users there isn't a requirement that they register their drone or the flight path," says Laura Emmett of London, Ont.-based Lerners Lawyers.

Emmett advises clients on drone-related issues.

"It does present some difficulties in terms of identifying who is operating the drone. The rules right now for Transport Canada, for recreational drones, require that the name, address and telephone number of the drone user are marked on the drone."

But without binoculars or a long camera lens, reading that information could be difficult. Residents who see drones flying over their property and have privacy concerns, she adds, could contact police directly.

Emmett says there is a requirement to obtain a special flight operation certificate if the drone is used commercially or if it weighs more than 35 kilograms.

"There are proposed new regulations that Transport Canada has released. They haven't come into force yet. The consultation period ended at the end of October. So I expect we will be seeing new rules shortly."

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With files from Alberta@Noon