Rigorous rules proposed for recreational drone flyers, documents show

Transport Canada proposes that anyone flying a drone bigger than a tiny toy should have to register their devices, pass a knowledge test and pay for insurance, CBC News learns through an Access to Information request.

'The recreational users are going to have to meet more stringent safety requirements,' federal official says

College student Nick Howe says regulations for drone users in Canada sound 'too strict.' (Ashley Burke/CBC News)

Transport Canada is proposing that anyone flying a drone bigger than a tiny toy should have to register their devices, pass a knowledge test and pay for liability insurance, CBC News has learned.

Through an Access to Information request, CBC obtained the proposed regulatory framework for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that were sent to Transport Minister Marc Garneau in April 2016.

The department is proposing that anyone operating a drone weighing more than 250 grams, including recreational users, should fall under more rigorous regulations expected to be introduced in 2017. 

"The proposed floor for very small UAVs is intended to minimize the risks to persons, based on the speed and potential lethality," the briefing note says. It adds that even "very small" drones can travel quickly and impart so much energy upon impact that there is a 30 per cent "likelihood of lethality."

'Just getting too strict now'

The department's plans are "overkill," said Ottawa-based drone user Nick Howe.

"I think it's just getting too strict now."

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Howe spent more than $2,300 on his recreational drone, including special parts, and has travelled across Canada making videos to showcase aerial views of the country online. Just because some people are acting irresponsibly doesn't mean all recreational users should have to pay the price, he said.

"It just means more money I'm going to have to spend," said Howe, who also started producing videos for real estate companies. "It's a lot more of a hassle than anything."

Safety concerns 

Transport Canada staff began looking into regulations for drones in 2010. Since then, the industry has boomed, prompting safety concerns. 

"We need to regulate that to make sure that we don't have a disaster," said Aaron McCrorie, Transport Canada's director general of civil aviation, in an interview. "The recreational users are going to have to meet more stringent safety requirements now."

McCrorie has seen a dramatic increase not only in the number of people buying drones, but also the number of users flying them dangerously close to airplanes and buildings. 

In 2010, the department investigated one incident. In 2016, the department has investigated 82 potential infractions as of Sept. 1. 

"We do have instances of these things crashing into vehicles, for example, so there has to be some means of accounting for the cost of those damages," McCrorie said, emphasizing the need for liability insurance.

Transport Canada lists drone concerns

7 years ago
Duration 0:22
Aaron McCrorie, director of civil aviation at Transport Canada, says drone regulations will "make sure that we don't have a disaster."

Age restrictions 

Transport Canada is also considering age restrictions for drone users, as exists for pilots. The department is proposing a minimum age of 14 to operate a very small drone and a minimum of 16 to operate a drone heavier than one kilogram, according to a briefing note from April.

The government also plans to stop regulating based on recreational versus commercial use. The new model is based on how much potential risk a drone could cause based on its weight and where it's flown, according to Transport Canada. 

But recreational drone user Andrea Robertson believes 250 grams is "far too low" to fall under the new regulations. 

Robertson, an Ottawa resident known as Lady Drone on YouTube, is afraid of heights, so she flies a Phantom drone to live the experience through her camera. She's glad there are new regulations coming and agrees drones can be dangerous, but has concerns about finding insurance to cover her if there's an accident.

"Because I'm a hobbyist, not a commercial flyer, I haven't been able to find any insurance companies that will provide insurance," Robertson said. "The insurance companies, at this point, are only interested in commercial fliers."

Andrea Robertson flies drones as a hobby and says she has been struggling to get insurance to cover her if she has an accident. (Ashley Burke/CBC News)

'Less red tape' for commercial users 

Meanwhile, the proposed regulations could mean a lot less red tape for those using drones for commercial use, such as making real estate videos or inspecting construction sites. Instead of having to reapply at least every year for a certificate to fly drones commercially, it could get a lot easier. 

"You go through the process once and then you'll have a licence just like having an automobile licence," said Mark Aruja, chairman of the Board for Unmanned Systems Canada, a group that co-chaired the working group to help develop the regulations. 

"The expectation is we'll have less red tape going forward," added Aruja. "But there will be a significant bar to meet in terms of getting that operating licence." 

Transport Canada launched consultations in 2015 and received more than 100 written submissions. Staff members are currently drafting the regulations that could still change, and working to develop the necessary licensing and exams before the regulations come into effect, likely sometime in 2017.

A drone operated by Andrea Robertson flies in west Ottawa. (Ashley Burke/CBC News)


Ashley Burke

Senior reporter

Ashley Burke is a senior reporter with the CBC's Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa. She was recognized with the Charles Lynch Award and was a finalist for the Michener Award for her exclusive reporting on the toxic workplace at Rideau Hall. She has also uncovered allegations of sexual misconduct involving senior leaders in the Canadian military. You can reach her confidentially by email: