New rules for drones: Pilot certificates, avoiding airports — and no drunk droning
Drone use restricted around airports, emergencies
The federal government has adopted strict new regulations to govern the use of drones in Canadian airspace — prohibiting them from flying near airports and emergency scenes, and ensuring those operating them aren't drunk or high on drugs.
Speaking to reporters at a news conference in Montreal Wednesday, Transport Minister Marc Garneau said drones have the potential to improve lives but can also present security problems.
"The government is resolved to improve the security of aviation and of the public. At the same time we are also resolved to encourage and support the possibilities of innovation and economic growth that drones represent."
The new regulations are comprehensive. They require that drones be registered and that operators of larger drones be certified. The regulations also state who can operate them, where they can fly and what they can carry.
For example, they state that drones won't be allowed to carry living things. However, operators with a special flight operations certificate can transport items like explosives, weapons or ammunition.
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The new regulations will apply to all drones between 250 grams and 25 kilograms. Drones weighing over 25 kilograms will need special permission from Transport Canada and will also have to adhere to the rules announced today.
Micro drones weighing under 250 grams won't fall under the regulations — but Delphine Denis, spokesperson for Garneau, said operators will still have to fly them responsibly and must never put people or aircraft in danger.
"Science demonstrates that drones 300 g and (heavier) at full speed can cause damage to a cockpit," she explained in an email.
Most of the changes are scheduled to go into effect June 1.
Garneau's announcement comes as the presence of drones near the U.K.'s Gatwick Airport before Christmas led to chaos. Hundreds of flights were cancelled because of the threat of drones colliding with aircraft, disrupting the travel plans of more than 100,000 passengers.
On Tuesday, the sighting of a drone disrupted flights at Heathrow, the U.K.'s busiest airport.
Canada has not been immune.
In October 2017, a small drone collided with a passenger plane in the skies above Jean Lesage airport in Quebec City, resulting in minor damage. Nobody was hurt. At the time, Garneau described it as the first collision in Canada between a drone and a commercial aircraft.
In June 2017, Garneau told the Montreal Gazette that the prospect of a drone colliding with an aircraft was "the kind of nightmare scenario that keeps me up at night."
The government introduced interim rules in 2017 to govern drones while it worked on the final regulations, which were adopted by cabinet just before Christmas — around the same time drone sightings were disrupting Gatwick flights.
The overriding theme in the new regulations is the need to prohibit the operation of drones "in such a reckless or negligent manner as to endanger or be likely to endanger aviation safety or the safety of any person."
Garneau likened those who operate drones to pilots who fly aircraft.
"Remember, when you take control of an aircraft you accept the responsibilities of a pilot. You are a pilot when you fly a drone."
Garneau said ignoring the rules could prove costly. Individuals who break the rules could face fines of up to $3,000. Corporations can be fined up to $25,000.
Someone who deliberately disrupts traffic at an airport could even face jail time, Garneau said.
Garneau said the government has been working on measures to prevent the kind of problems drones have caused at Gatwick and Heathrow.
"We are working with different groups, including the airports but also security agencies, to examine what kind of countermeasures would be applicable, depending on the type of drone and the circumstances," he said, adding that he couldn't go into details for security reasons.
Some other aspects of the new regulations:
- Registered owners of drones must be at least 14 years old and a citizen or permanent resident of Canada. Corporations and federal, municipal or provincial governments can also own drones.
- If you want to fly a drone in conditions where it's not in visual line of sight at all times, you'll need a special certificate (among situations where a certificate is needed). The operator of a drone also won't be allowed to fly it too close to airports or heliports or in controlled airspace, and will have to give way to aircraft, airships, gliders and balloons.
- With the exception of police, rescue and firefighting operations, nobody will be allowed to fly a drone over or within a security perimeter set up by officials in response to an emergency. That could prohibit news organizations from using drones equipped with cameras to get aerial footage of crimes, disasters or terrorist attacks.
- Drinking alcohol within 12 hours of being on a drone flight crew is prohibited, as is being "under the influence of alcohol" or "any drug that impairs the person's faculties to the extent that aviation safety or the safety of any person is endangered or likely to be endangered."
- Anyone who is tired or otherwise unable to properly perform their duties is prohibited from operating a drone or taking part in a drone flight crew.
- No one will be allowed to fly a drone when the weather conditions prevent seeing it at all times, or when frost, ice or snow are stuck to it. Anyone wanting to fly a drone at night will need special lights.
- To fly a drone over a concert or sporting event, the operator will need a special flight operations certificate. It will also take a special flight operations certificate for a drone to transport things like explosives, weapons, ammunition, or flammable or biohazardous material.
- There will be two levels of pilot certificates to operate a drone. Those with a basic certificate will have to be at least 14 years old and pass a test. However, the regulations also provide for someone under 14 to operate a drone if supervised by someone 14 or older who has a certificate.
- Those with advanced operations certificates will get to fly closer to airports and controlled airspace. They will have to be at least 16 years old and pass an exam and a flight review.
Information on how to register drones or get drone pilot certificates will be available online.
Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
- An earlier version of this story said the new rules will apply to drones over 55 pounds. In fact, the regulations will apply to all drones between 250 grams and 25 kg.Jan 09, 2019 8:44 AM ET