Calgary Drone Fair swoops in to educate and entertain

Drones are flying off the shelves, but most people don't realize the extent of the regulations on actually flying the things.

Most in Calgary don't understand the rules and regulations around unmanned flight

Declan Sweeney, one of the organizers of Calgary's Drone Fair, said many people don't realize the rules and regulations around unmanned aerial flight. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Drones are flying off the shelves, but most people don't realize the extent of the regulations on actually flying the things. 

That's the reason Calgary's first Drone Fair is touching down at SAIT on Sunday, hoping to educate casual users and commercial captains on the opportunities and risks of unmanned flight. 

"From the commercial standpoint there's a lot of rules and regulations as a business — a lot more paperwork, you've got to show that you've got proper training and insurance," said Declan Sweeney, one of the event's organizers. 

"From the recreation side, the rules aren't as tight and that's where we're seeing people getting into trouble. They're buying a drone and not realizing it's an aircraft, and they're going and flying wherever they want. And you're not allowed to do that."

'Most people in Calgary shouldn't be flying'

Many aren't aware of restrictions on drone flight in the proximity of airports or helicopter pads, for example. In Calgary, according to Const. Kevin Spear, bylaws prevent drone flights in parks or over roadways. 

He said the Calgary police, which uses drones for accident scene investigations, must operate like any commercial drone user, governed by Transport Canada and a Special Flight Operation Certificate. 

"Most SFOCs prevent people from flying over built-up areas, which is basically the entire city," he said. "So flying within Calgary for commercial purposes actually is pretty difficult to do."

Drones have come a long way in a short time

5 years ago
Calgary Drone Fair hopes to educated and entertain, as the unmanned vehicles grow ever more advanced. 0:49

Before the cops send one of their drones up, for example, they must contact air traffic control at the Calgary Airport.

As far as many people not understanding the rules and regulations, Spear said "most people in Calgary shouldn't be flying."

If you're caught violating the rules you can face steep fines from Transport Canada or criminal prosecution if trespassing or public mischief is involved, said Sweeney.

The technology behind drones has evolved quickly, from flight stability, camera and sensor technology and special features like obstacle avoidance. 

"Some of the features that they're bringing in now is so that you don't take off near an airport, is that they have automatic features in there where it will alert you that you're too close to an airport and it won't let you actually take off," said Sweeney.'

The fair

The Drone Fair will feature a lineup of speakers, including the Calgary police and Transport Canada, as well as industry representatives from construction, filmmaking and more. 

"Our education partner is SAIT and they're going to talk about their drone-related programs that they're doing right now," said Sweeney.

There will also be a student competition, where contestants try to reconfigure a drone for a particular task, and a First Person View race, where competitors will race drones while looking through goggles that give them the drones-eye view. 

As for what's next in the world of unmanned aerial vehicles, Sweeney said the possibilities are almost endless. 

"We're just scratching the surface. We haven't really seen how these drones are really going to just take on a life of their own just in terms of the particular applications," he said. 

And he's not kidding about that life thing. 

"Artificial intelligence, at some point, where the drone will be able to think for itself, that's coming too."

With files from Monty Kruger and The Calgary Eyeopener