Transport Canada Proposes Amendments to sUAV Regulations

On May 28th, Transport Canada released a Notice of Proposed Amendment (NPA) outlining proposed changes to the regulatory framework governing small UAVs. If adopted, the changes would take effect in 2016. The deadline to submit comments is August 28th.

Minimizing the Application of SFOCs

Transport Canada proposes to establish regulatory requirements for UAVs weighing 25kgs or less (sUAVs) that are operated within visual line-of-sight (VLOS). Operators using sUAVS within VLOS that would be able to meet the regulatory requirements would be permitted to operate without having to obtain Special Flight Operation Certificates (SFOCs). Operators using UAVs weighing more than 25kgs and/or those seeking to operate beyond VLOS would continue to use the SFOC process.

Establishing Risk-Based Categories of Operations

Transport Canada proposes three categories of operations involving sUAVs that are flown within VLOS: Complex Operations, Simple Operations and Operations Involving Very Small UAVs.

Under each of the three categories, operators that meet certain criteria would need to register with Transport Canada and obtain an Operator Certificate by demonstrating that they have an “adequate management structure and can conduct a safe operation”. The criteria being considered includes:

  • The number of employees;
  • Companies that retain persons in commercial UAV enterprises; and/or
  • Companies seeking to operate across multiple regions and/or using a large number or multiple types of UAVs

Such operators would have to meet certain requirements for flight operations, documentation, flight time and duty time limitations, emergency equipment, maintenance requirements, training programs and operations manuals.

1. Complex Operations

This category would establish rules for operating around built-up areas and close to aerodromes. Because of the increased risk associated with such operations, this category would establish the most stringent requirements.

Specific requirements include:

  • Aircraft marking and registration;
  • Pilot permit (criteria includes: age restrictions, medical fitness, knowledge requirements, passing a Transport Canada written exam, practical training on the type of UAV to be flown and demonstrating competency in performing normal and emergency procedures); and
  • Manufacturer declaration that the UAV meets a design standard

Transport Canada proposes to establish operating rules for this category including:

  • Not operating within Class A or B airspace;
  • Not operating within Class F Restricted airspace without permission;
  • Restricting a single pilot from operating more than one UAV at the same time;
  • Prohibiting visual observers from being situated in moving vehicles;
  • Maintaining a minimum lateral distance from people, animals, buildings and vehicles (specific distances have not been proposed); and
  • Operating at a maximum altitude of 400 feet AGL

2. Limited Operations

This category would apply to operations taking place in remote areas, for example, agricultural operations and rural aerial surveys. This category would mandate specific operating distances from built-up areas and aerodromes.

Specific requirements include:

  • Aircraft marking and registration;
  • Basic knowledge test; and
  • Manufacturer declaration that the UAV meets a design standard

NOT required:

  • Pilot permit

The operating rules for this category would include:

  • Operating only during the daytime;
  • Maintaining a maximum speed of 87 knots;
  • Not entering in Class C, D, E or F airspace;
  • Staying a certain distance away from aerodromes (proposal considers 9km and 20 km);
  • Staying at least 9 km from built-up areas; and
  • Operating at a maximum altitude of 300 feet AGL

3. Operations with Very Small UAVs

Transport Canada is seeking comments on whether it should incorporate a category that would establish less restrictive rules for very small UAVs, and whether the category should be based on weight or an alternative approach i.e. kinetic energy. Although the proposal does not specify the weight limitation that would be applied to this category, it references the 2kg exemption that was issued last November.

As an alternative for classifying very small UAVs, Transport Canada proposes using a table that assesses maximum weight and airspeed to determine the lethality. Another option considered is to create a low energy category for UAVs that would not impart energy over a certain threshold on impact.

Specific requirements include:

  • Aircraft identification (pilot name and contact marked on UAV); and
  • Basic knowledge test

NOT required:

  • Aircraft marking and registration;
  • Pilot permit;
  • Medical certificate; and
  • Manufacturer declaration that the UAV meets a design standard

The proposed operating and flight rules for this category include:

  • Operating only during the daytime;
  • Not entering in Class C, D, E or F airspace;
  • Staying at least 9 km from aerodromes; and
  • Operating at a maximum altitude of 300 feet AGL

If you would like to submit a comment to Transport Canada, you may send your comment to carrac@tc.gc.ca by August 28th.

Does Your Drone Have a ‘Remote’? Canada’s Definition of Autonomous Operations is a Scene out of Chappie

Chappie, the new robo-film on the block, takes place in Johannesburg, where the police force is made up of robots. In one of the early scenes, the main characters, Die Antwoord’s Ninja and Yolandi take part in a drug deal that is raided by robot cops. Hoping to avoid a similar fate in their next deal, Yolandi suggests that they find the robots’ remote so that they can switch them off like TV sets. Do the robots have a remote, and do Ninja and Yolandi find it? No spoilers here, but let’s take up the underlying question in the context of drone regulations…

What is Canada’s position on autonomous and automated operations? Well, does your drone have a ‘remote’? If it does, according to Transport Canada, it is not an autonomous drone. Transport Canada defines an autonomous drone as one that does “not allow pilot intervention in the management of the flight.” It is not enough for an autonomous drone to be capable of self-governance, rather it must not allow for any possibility of human intervention.

What about drones that have a remote but can complete automated tasks such as take-offs or landings or that can execute pre-defined waypoint operations? Transport Canada distinguishes these drones from autonomous drones by pointing to the fact that they require operator initiation or intervention.

Although there is no express prohibition, truly autonomous operations are outside of the scope of Canada’s current regulations. For the time being, if your drone doesn’t have a remote, you wouldn’t be able to operate. Our framework permits operations that involve automation, but it requires that an operator have the capability to intervene – or rather, as Ninja and Yolandi would hope, your flying robot must have a remote.

How Canada Handles Beyond Visual Line-of-Sight Drone Operations

The FAA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for small unmanned aircraft systems (SUAS) proposes to restrict operations that are completed beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS). However, the FAA has invited comments regarding the proposed BVLOS restriction.

In Canada, BVLOS operations are not yet mainstream, however they are attainable under the Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) system. Transport Canada’s Staff Instruction 623-001 establishes the following conditions for BVLOS operations:

• BVLOS flights cannot take place outside of restricted airspace, unless the operator can mitigate risk to an acceptable level i.e. through the use of ground-based radar
• BVLOS flights must not be conducted over populated areas
• BVLOS flights must be conducted in visual meteorological conditions
• BVLOS flights cannot be conducted within controlled airspace
• BVLOS flights can only be conducted within 5 nautical miles of the point of departure
• The take-off and landing/recovery must be conducted within visual line-of-sight
• Direct radio line-of-sight capability must be maintained throughout the operating area

Canada is not alone in having established conditions for BVLOS operations. In fact, quite a few jurisdictions have more advanced regulations for BVLOS operations, including Australia, Colombia, Czech Republic, France, Israel and Poland. As stakeholders submit comments to the FAA over the next two months, it’s important to look at how other jurisdictions are managing risk in BVLOS operations.

Canada’s Approach to Risk Management for Nighttime Drone Flights

The FAA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for small unmanned aircraft systems (SUAS) limits SUAS operations to daylight hours. The FAA concedes that the restriction on nighttime flights may negatively impact the ability to use SUAS in northern regions such as Alaska that have very few hours of daylight during winter months. The FAA has invited stakeholders to comment on how risk may be mitigated in the course of nighttime operations. Here is a breakdown of the Canadian approach to risk management for nighttime flights…

In Canada, nighttime operations are possible under the Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) system. Transport Canada’s Staff Instruction 623-001 outlines the following conditions for nighttime operations:

• If the UAV has lights, the lights must be on during night flights
• If the UAV does not have lights, there must be a means of illumination that would enable visual contact with the UAV
• The crew must have a portable emergency light source available
• The pilot must not have visual limitation of depth perception, colour blindness or problems seeing at night
• Visual observers providing the sense and avoid function (i.e. where the pilot is using FPV) cannot use night vision goggles

Transport Canada further states that if light emitting diodes (LEDs) are used to satisfy the lighting requirement for nighttime operations, the LEDs must have sufficient intensity to enable the pilot or visual observer and other airspace users to have visual contact with the UAV.

FAA Regulations Draw Inspiration from Canada, But Miss Key Aspect

Various aspects of the anticipated proposed small UAS (sUAS) regulations that were released by the FAA today draw inspiration from Canada’s approach to regulation. In fact, the FAA provides a handy comparison chart on pgs. 55-56. The Canadian comparison is limited to Canada’s new exemptions for sUAS. Canada’s exemptions operate very differently than FAA exemptions, as they do not require approval from our regulator, Transport Canada. If you meet the requirements of either of our two exemptions, you can operate without applying for a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC). SFOC allow for broader applications than what is shown in the FAA comparison chart, including FPV and beyond visual line of sight.

Practicing in the Canadian jurisdiction, I believe that one of the most valuable aspects of our system is its flexibility and the fact that the system rewards safe operators. For instance, in Canada, first time SFOC applicants are typically rewarded narrow certificates in terms of time, geography and level of operational risk. As operators develop a track record of conducting safe operations, they are able to receive ‘standing certificates’ allowing them to operate for up to three years over large regions of the country.

The FAA should consider adopting a similar approach that rewards safe operators by allowing them to complete less restrictive operations. For instance, the proposed rules state that operators would not be able to fly over persons not involved in the operation. If an operator has a good track record of conducting safe flights, there is no reason why the FAA should not consider removing this burden.

As the FAA crafts its final regulations, it is important to find ways to build flexibility into the system, and to not only focus on punishing irresponsible behavior but also rewarding safe operators.

Summary of the FAA’s Proposed Drone Regulations

This morning the FAA held a conference call to announce its highly anticipated small UAS (sUAS) regulations. Sunday morning might strike as odd timing, however it’s likely that the timing had to do with the leak of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Regulatory Evaluation, Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems, which I wrote about on here yesterday. Below is a summary of the critical aspects of the proposed regulations from the FAA summary (the proposed rules have not been made available at the time of writing).

Operational Limitations

• UAS must be under 55lbs
• UAS must be operated within visual line of sight
• FPV is not permitted
• Operator must not fly over people not involved in the operation
• Daylight operations only
• Maximum speed of 87 knots
• Maximum altitude 500 feet AGL
• A single person cannot act as an operator for more than one UAS operation at a time

Operator Certification and Responsibilities
• Operators must pass an aeronautical test
• Operators must obtain an sUAS operating certificate

Aircraft Requirements
• Airworthiness is NOT required
• Aircraft markings required

Model Aircraft
• Proposed rule would not apply to model aircraft
• Proposed rule would codify the FAA’s enforcement authority in respect of model aircraft operators who are endangering the safety of the national airspace

Some of the items that are not addressed in the FAA summary which I am particularly interested in are: (1) whether the proposed rules allow a single person to operate a fleet of drones within the same operation, and (2) what the TSA security clearance check will entail.

Possible Leaked FAA Document Provides Hints Regarding Proposed Rulemaking for sUAS

A new document purporting to be prepared by the FAA Office of Aviation Policy and Plans provides hints regarding the anticipated proposed small UAS (sUAS) regulations. The possible leaked document is dated February 2015 and is titled “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Regulatory Evaluation, Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems.” The document’s authenticity has not been established, however assuming that the document is authentic, here are some of the more noteworthy insights into the upcoming proposed regulations…

Line of Sight in Daylight Below 500 ft

The FAA proposes that operators must fly within visual line of sight. The document states that at this time “there is no acceptable technological substitute for direct human vision.” The document also proposes that operators are only permitted to fly between sunrise and sunset. The rationale provided for this requirement is that sUAS will be flying at low altitudes and flying at night would make it difficult to see people on the ground. The proposed rule requires operators of sUAS to operate below 500 ft. The logic behind this ceiling height restriction is that manned aircraft generally operate above 500 ft.

sUAS Registration Requirements, No Airworthiness

Each sUAS would have to be registered with the FAA. Registration would cost around $5 and would have to be renewed every three years. According to the document, the FAA Aircraft Registration database would enable the FAA and the public to identify registered owners and operators. The document states that “this information is necessary for FAA Aviation Safety Inspectors to perform their routine checks or to investigate an incident or accident.” Although sUAS would have to be registered, airworthiness compliance would not be imposed. Because sUAS pose a lower risk to people and property, the document provides that airworthiness compliance “would not result in significant safety benefits.”

No Pilot’s License but Requires Knowledge Test and Operator Certificate

A pilot’s license would not be required to operate sUAS. The document admits that the “training, testing, proficiency and experience requirements for obtaining a commercial pilot’s license have limited relevance to the nature of small UAS operations.” Instead, operators would have to pass a test demonstrating aeronautical knowledge and would be required to obtain a small UAS operating certificate from the FAA. The test would take roughly 3 hours to complete.

TSA Security Threat Determination

According to the document, the “TSA would [need] to determine if the operators pose a security threat. The TSA considers someone to be a security threat when he or she is known to pose or is suspected of posing a threat to national security, to transportation security, or of terrorism.” The estimated cost of a security threat determination is $130 per applicant. Although the proposed rule does not impose this fee on the operator, the document states that “at some point in the future these costs may be passed directly to the operator.”

Physical Capacity Certification

The document provides that sUAS applicants would have to certify that they have “no physical or mental condition that could interfere with the safe operation of a small UAS.”

Alternative Approaches

Finally, the document reveals alternative approaches that the FAA considered in the rulemaking process. For instance, the FAA considered parsing sUAS into subcategories based on weight, operational characteristics and operating environment. The FAA dispensed with this approach as it was deemed too burdensome. However, the FAA is apparently considering a micro sUAS rule for UAS under 2kg that meet certain operational parameters including operating at less than 30 knots below 400 ft within line of sight without use of FPV. Under the micro sUAS classification, the operator would not have to complete the knowledge test however a micro sUAS operating certificate would be required.

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