Calgary man criminally charged for flying drone near airport

A man who flew a drone too close to the flight path of aircraft at Calgary's airport has been criminally charged, in what police believe is a first for the city.

Police arrest 25-year-old after spotting him flying a remote-controlled quadcopter just south of major runway

A man caught flying a quadcopter-style drone similar to the one depicted in this photo under the flight path at Calgary International Airport has been criminally charged. Police believe it's the first charge of its kind in the city. (CBC)

Police have criminally charged a Calgary man for flying an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) — commonly known as a drone — in the flight path of aircraft near the airport.

"This is believed to be the first charge of its kind in Calgary, in terms of the illegal use of a UAV," said Sgt. Colin Foster.

Police saw the man operating the remote-controlled quadcopter from Airways Park, just south of the airport, at 6:45 p.m. on Sunday.

Drone 'caused some concern' at Calgary airport

Transport Canada's current guidelines say drones should be flown at least nine kilometres away from airports, no higher than 90 metres above the ground and at least 150 metres away from people, buildings and vehicles. 

"The UAV was seen to be flying under the flight path for Calgary International Airport, which obviously caused some concern," Foster said.

"The concern was that the particular device he was using has the potential to go up to 500 feet."

Police approached the man, who made his way on foot to a nearby vehicle, but officers intercepted him before he could drive away.

Following a conversation with the man, officers decided to arrest him.

Foster said the 25-year-old Calgary resident was charged under the Criminal Code of Canada for interfering with a navigation facility in a manner likely to endanger the safety of aircraft.

He's set to appear in court on Jan. 28.

Most drone pilots don't know rules, says store clerk

Pat MacDonald, who works at PM Hobbycraft in Calgary, says most people who visit his store to buy drones are not aware of the rules governing the aircraft. (CBC)

Pat MacDonald, who works at a called PM Hobbycraft that sells drones in Calgary, said most people interested in buying a drone are unaware of the legalities involved.

"They want something that's a cheap toy, and they don't realize that there are actually rules against a lot of what they want to do with them," MacDonald said.

He said the store tries to educate customers by providing them with information about the rules and by directing them to Transport Canada's website.

"Some people aren't necessarily going to listen to that, but they probably wouldn't listen to rules in the first place."

New drone rules to come in Canada

In Canada, as in the U.S., close calls between drones and aircraft are on the rise, and the consequences of a collision could prove deadly.​

In December, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration announced that recreational drone users will be required to register their drones by providing a name, address and email address, so that any owners who do get too close to aircraft can be tracked down.

Canada, meanwhile, is looking at bringing in updated drone regulations this year, replacing its existing safety guidelines with stricter rules requiring licensing, training and registration.

Transport Canada has published a list of do's and don'ts for recreational drone pilots and plans to introduce regulations in 2016.

"We want to make sure that we encourage aviation, and this is a neat new sector," said Aaron McCrorie, director of civil aviation at Transport Canada, in a recent interview with CBC's Power & Politics.

"We don't want to unduly clamp down on that, but take a balanced approach."