Commercial drone use jumps and keeps regulators busy

From farming to firefighting, drones are making their way into more and more industries, and regulators are struggling to keep up, say industry experts.

Transport Canada commercial drone operation certificates quadruple between 2012 and 2014

An unmanned aerial vehicle operated by Hovercam UAV is displayed at the Unmanned Systems Canada Convention in Halifax. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

From farming to firefighting, drones are making their way into more industries, and regulators are struggling to keep up, say industry experts.

The speed at which unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are gaining in popularity for commercial operations is proving to be a challenge for regulators at Transport Canada.

While recreational drone use is unregulated, any industrial or commercial application is subject to Transport Canada regulations. As such, operators must apply for a flight certificate before lift off.

"Unfortunately, it takes a lot of manpower to evaluate each of these applications," said Stuart Bailey, past-president of Unmanned Systems Canada.

"Transport Canada just doesn't have the resources required to meet the expanding need."

'A perfect storm of new developments'

This week in Halifax, regulators and industry officials are meeting at an annual conference to discuss how to deal with the rapid expansion of commercial drone use.

Transport Canada's website shows there were 345 operations certificates issued in 2012. By 2014, the number had jumped to 1,672.

"It's been a perfect storm of new developments," said Mark Langille, owner of FliteLab, a company that provides aerial photography and videography.

He says advancements in smartphone and action camera technology have made components lighter, smaller and therefore easier to get off the ground.

But more isn't always better.

Numerous stories have emerged in which drones have infringed on privacy or impeded emergency operations.

​However, the proliferation of UAVs has been mostly positive, with benefits reaching a variety of industries.

This week Google announced it would begin offering a delivery service using drones by 2017.

While one instance of civilian drone use disrupted firefighting operations in British Columbia, many emergency officials are turning to drones to assist their efforts.

"There's always going to be limits of what they [regulators] will allow and commercial operators are always going to try to push those limits," said Langille.

"But I feel that it's been a pretty good relationship overall. They are working with industry to try to improve things going forward."

About the Author

Brett Ruskin

Reporter/Videojournalist

Brett Ruskin is a reporter and videojournalist covering everything from local breaking news to national issues. He's based in Halifax.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.