Last Friday, Transport Canada unveiled the long awaited revamp of its commercial UAS regulatory system.  This is one instance where the changes actually lived up to all of the hype surrounding the announcement.

Up until now, anyone who wanted to fly a UAS for commercial purposes in Canada needed a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC).  The application process required the operator to submit a detailed set of procedures and manuals to the appropriate regional Transport Canada office to get approval, which took up to a month to obtain.  In addition, for most operators, the SFOC was only good for a specific series of flights at a specific area.

This system was somewhat cumbersome, but worked well enough to handle the limited demand for UAS flights when the process was first instituted.  Unfortunately, the system became a victim of its own success, and there were increasing reports of delays as the number of SFOC petitions skyrocketed.

Transport Canada has taken the bold move of essentially carving out a large volume of what it sees as low-risk UAS operations from the regulatory process by issuing two blanket exemptions. The first exemption covers UAVs of 2 kilograms or less (about 4.4 pounds), and the second applies to UAVs weighing between 2.1 kilograms and 25 kilograms (4.5 pounds to 55 pounds).

In order to take advantage of either exemption, the flight has to be conducted based on visual line-of-sight, be conducted 5 miles from an aerodrome and away from “built-up” areas, and outside restricted or controlled airspace, and at or below 300 feet.  In addition, for UAVs weighing 2 kilograms or less, the operator has to comply with 37 operating requirements.  These include:

  1. All pilots must be 18 years old for solo flight, or at least 16 years old if the flight is at an academic institution for research purposes,
  2. The operator must have a minimum of $100,000 in liability insurance coverage,
  3. No drug or alcohol can be consumed before flight,
  4. Permission of any property owner for take-off or landing must be obtained,
  5. A safety survey must be conducted of the area before flight is permitted,
  6. Documents must be kept with the pilot, including proof of insurance, contact information, and the applicable rules, and must be shown to police or transport Canada inspectors on demand,
  7. Flight is limited to visual line-of-sight,
  8. First-person-view technology is prohibited,
  9. Only 1 UAS can be flown at a time,
  10. Flights must be at least 100’ from any person or property not involved in the operation,
  11. UAVs may not be flown over an open air assembly of persons,
  12. The pilot must be able to take control of the UAV at all times.

Operators of UAVs weighing between 2 kilograms and 25 kilograms have to comply with 58 flight restrictions.  These include most of the above restrictions, as well as:

  1. Requiring pilots to have all manufacturer checklists and placards as well as a fire extinguisher on hand,
  2. Limiting pilots to 18 years of age, and requiring ground school instruction,
  3. More detailed requirements for preflight mission planning,
  4. More detailed UAV inspection and maintenance requirements,
  5. Requiring written notification to Transport Canada of the name and address of the operator, the UAS serial numbers, the work being done, and the geographic boundaries of the operation,
  6. Detailed reporting requirements for any mishaps, incidents, or accidents.

Unfortunately, American entrepreneurs have been shut out of this exciting new opportunity.  These exemptions are only available to Canadian citizens.  Foreigners will need to go through the existing SFOC process, which puts them at a distinct competitive disadvantage.  As Plane-ly Spoken has pointed out several times previously, the Section 333 exemption process still remains the best way, at least during the next 18 to 24 months, for Americans to get into the commercial UAS field.

(Originally posted December 3, 2014)