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.

Transport Canada’s Position on Indoor and Tethered Drone Operations

In November, Transport Canada issued Staff Instruction 623-001, which provides guidance on the review and processing of Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) applications. Among the issues addressed are whether an SFOC is required for indoor and tethered drone operations. Below is a summary of Transport Canada’s position…

Indoor Operations

According to the Staff Instruction, there are certain situations in which you don’t need an SFOC to conduct an operation inside a building or a structure, however this is not always the case. Whether you need an SFOC or not for an indoor operation turns on who is actually present while the operation is being conducted.

If only the operation crew is present, an SFOC is not required. Similarly, if only the crew and other people who are directly participating in the operation are present, an SFOC is not needed. For example, for an indoor movie set, an SFOC would not be required if only the crew and actors are present. However, if there are individuals present within the building or structure who are not directly involved in the operation, then an SFOC would be required. An example of this would be a sporting event where members of the public would be present.

Tethered Drones

The Staff Instruction characterizes tethered drones as “obstacles to air navigation [that] are to be marked and lit in accordance with the obstruction marking and lighting standards” found in the Canadian Aviation Regulations. The Staff Instruction further provides that tethered drones that are “extremely manoeuvrable and which operate over wide vertical/horizontal areas may require an SFOC.”

It is unclear what Transport Canada considers to be an ‘extremely manoeuvrable’ tethered drone or what constitutes a ‘wide vertical/horizontal area’. However, the Staff Instruction states that, “operating an aircraft on a tether simply to avoid SFOC requirements is not a viable solution.”

Canada’s Regulations for Foreign Commercial UAV Operators

Canada’s relatively favorable framework for commercial UAV operations is attracting interest among foreign operators who are frustrated with restrictions in their home jurisdictions. The following provides a breakdown of Canadian regulations affecting foreign commercial operators…

Are foreign operators eligible to operate in Canada?

Foreign operators may conduct commercial operations in Canada if they are granted a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) from Transport Canada. To be considered a candidate for an SFOC to conduct a commercial operation, a foreign operator must demonstrate legal eligibility to operate in the operator’s home jurisdiction. For example, a US operator would require a Certificate of Waiver and Authorization (COA) or a Special Airworthiness Certificate (SAC) to be eligible to apply for an SFOC to conduct a commercial operation in Canada.

What options are available for foreign operators who aren’t legally eligible to operate in their home jurisdictions?

First, foreign operators who have no legal basis for operating in their home jurisdictions are permitted to conduct research and development operations in Canada under an SFOC. Such activities must be conducted at designated UAV test sites such as the CCUVS site recently approved in Southern Alberta. The CCUVS site operates under restricted airspace that spans 700 square nautical miles running up to 18,000 feet above sea level. Because the airspace is restricted, it is possible to complete more risky operations such as those conducted beyond visual line of sight.

Second, foreign operators who have no legal basis to operate in their home jurisdictions can set up a Canadian subsidiary through which they may conduct commercial operations. By establishing a Canadian corporate entity, operators can avoid the foreign eligibility requirements and apply through the normal SFOC process open to Canadian operators. For example, if a US corporation sets up a Canadian subsidiary, the Canadian entity can apply for an SFOC without having a COA or a SAC. Additionally, the Canadian entity would be eligible for the two new exemptions from the SFOC process (assuming the other exemption criteria are met).

Transport Canada Releases New Framework for UAV Operations

Earlier this month, Transport Canada announced that commercial operators will soon be able to benefit from two exemptions from the general Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) requirement. Today, Transport Canada published an infographic on its site detailing the new exemptions. Here’s a breakdown of the new framework…

When do you need a SFOC?
A SFOC is required if you are operating a UAV that weighs more than 35kg for any purpose. Operators must also obtain a SFOC if they are flying for “work or research” purposes and they do not meet the requirements of either of the new exemptions (for instance, if the UAV weighs more than 25kg). Before outlining the exemptions, it is important to highlight that the “research” criteria reflects an expansion of the general SFOC requirement.

When can you avoid a SFOC?
If a UAV is not being used for “work or research” and it weighs 35kg or less, a SFOC is not required, however operators are still expected to engage in safe practices. Transport Canada has enumerated “safety tips” such as: flying during daylight, within sight; avoiding airports, populated areas and moving vehicles; and not exceeding an altitude of 90 meters.

Those operating UAVs for “work or research” may be able to benefit from two exemptions. The first of these applies to operators flying UAVs weighing less than 2kg. The requirements that the operator must satisfy to qualify for this exemption include: age restrictions, carrying liability insurance, flying during daylight in direct line of sight, and flying at a distance of at least 30 metres from people, animals, buildings and vehicles not involved in the operation.

The second exemption applies to operators flying UAVs weighing between 2kg and 25kg for “work or research” purposes. This exemption features a more stringent spin on the requirements that apply to UAVs under 2kg (i.e. staying at least 150 metres away from people, animals, buildings and vehicles not involved in the operation). Additional criteria includes: developing and adhering to landing and recovery procedures and having a fire extinguisher on site.

Reflecting on the new exemptions, Brendan Schulman, a New York attorney representing commercial operators commented that “Canada’s new regulatory framework reflects a thoughtful risk-based approach and recognizes that at low weights and low altitudes, commercial drones do not pose serious safety risks. I hope our regulators in the United States take note of this alternative path to the future regulation of commercial drones.”