New drone rules may change profile of hobby, industry

There's mixed reaction in Ottawa to how new federal drone rules will affect the reputation of the emerging technology.

Permanent update to 2017's temporary rules expected to be in effect in June

Mudassir Shami organizes races and sells parts for drone enthusiasts in Ottawa. He's concerned about Transport Canada's recently-unveiled rules. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

There's mixed reaction in Ottawa to how new federal drone rules will affect the reputation of the emerging technology.

Transport Canada announced new rules for drones this week including mandatory registration, a form of licensing and strict penalties for flying in restricted airspace. 

Mudassir Shami, a race director with Ottawa FPV Riders drone club, said the rules add to the negativity surrounding the remote-controlled aircraft that's been building since recent drone incidents at U.K. airports.

His club organizes competitions in fields or indoors, generally not flying higher than 9 metres.

They use drones larger than 250 grams, which fall within Transport Canada's regulations, meaning children younger than 14 cannot own or operate them without supervision. 

This microdrone, only a few centimetres across, is too small to be covered under Transport Canada's regulations. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Shami said kids younger than that are a major part of drone races around the world and an important part of the membership in the club.

"Now the parents may be scared to let them into the hobby," he said.

The racing club is waiting to see if its membership in the Model Aeronautics Association of Canada​ will continue to allow it to organize competitions, he said.

Customization concerns

Shami also runs a business selling parts to customize or repair drones and is worried about what regulations requiring drones be purchased from certified vendors will mean.

"This will put all those small businesses in trouble," Shami said.

"We sell different parts for the people, but then again it's not one brand. You are building custom drones and there is no mention of custom drones [in the regulations]."

Shami said it is unclear whether those craft would require special clearance.

Next innovation

Ian Glenn, an executive at Orléans-based drone firm ING Robotic Aviation, said the industry has been calling for registration for more than a decade. 

"It starts to bring a level of maturity to the whole sector which has been lacking to this point," Glenn said.

Canada's drone sector has been lagging behind because of a lack of a framework, he said.

Ian Glenn is COO and CTO of ING Robotic Aviation Inc, which specializes in advance drone operation for governments and companies around the world. (Ashley Burke/CBC )

He acknowledged like any technology, there will be some people who don't use it properly, but the new laws are meant to address that.

The rules come into effect June 1 and apply to drones that are controlled within view of their operators. 

Glenn's company is part of a pilot project on the next step in regulating drones — beyond line of sight operations.

"The question is how do we extend [the current] framework with things like transponders so airplanes, manned and unmanned, don't run into each other," he said.

"It gives a great framework so now we can move rapidly forward to where the real economic drivers in Canada are."