Drone enthusiasts feel their wings have been clipped by new Transport Canada regulations

Terri Coles
There are new rules for flying recreational drones in Canada. Photo from Getty Images
There are new rules for flying recreational drones in Canada. Photo from Getty Images

Some drone enthusiasts think Canada’s new regulations on the unmanned aircraft could hamper innovation, though others say the regulations are a positive step forward for the growing industry.

“Our customers, they’re pretty unhappy about it. To them it seems like they can’t fly anywhere,” George Habib, owner of drone retailer Dr. Drone, told Yahoo Canada News. “They feel like it’s banned now.”

Customers, or people considering purchasing their first drone, are contacting his business looking for clarity on regulations that seem vague or overly restrictive, Habib said.

“The regulations are a bit open-ended and kind of hard to understand,” Habib said. “That’s my biggest frustration as a drone seller: that it’s hard to educate the customer on what they can do.”

For example, it’s not always easy to know if you are near an animal, especially if you are flying in undeveloped areas away from residences, as the regulations now specify.

The new federal regulations, which came into effect on March 16, implement a variety of restrictions:

  • Users must put their name, address, and telephone number on their drones.

  • Drones cannot be flown more than 90 metres above the ground, in clouds, or at night.

  • The drone pilot must be within 500 metres of the aircraft.

  • Drones cannot be flown within 75 metres of people, vehicles, vessels, animals, or buildings.

  • Drones cannot be flown within 9 kilometres of the centre of any airport, heliport, aerodrome or water aerodrome where aircraft take off and land, or of a forest fire.

  • Drones cannot be flown within controlled or restricted airspace, or where they could interfere with police or first responders.

Many of the rules announced in March existed beforehand, but now new ones have been added and they are all enforceable by law, with potentially hefty fines attached. Drone users who don’t comply with the regulations could be subject to fines of up to $3,000.

The regulations apply to drones weighing more than 250 grams, which excludes most flying remote-controlled toys sold by retailers like Canadian Tire and Walmart, and up to 35 kilograms. Commercial, research, and academic drones, as well as those weighing more than 35 kilograms, must be certified for use.

Drones are increasingly popular for both hobbyists and those with business interests in the unmanned aircraft. In the United States, drones sales tripled from April 2015 to 2016, according to a report from the NPD group.

In Canada, 66 Special Flight Operations Certificates for unmanned air vehicle operators were issued for use in 2010, according to Transport Canada. In 2016, 4,298 had been issued as of December 1.

Some drone enthusiasts have spoken out against the new Canadian regulations, calling them overly broad and unspecific, or harmful to the industry’s development.

“These sudden regulations, imposed without input from Canada’s tens of thousands of responsible drone pilots, will hurt innovation and education without a corresponding improvement in safety,” said Kara Calvert, director of industry group the Drone Manufacturers Alliance, said in a statement issued on March 16.

The Network of Drone Enthusiasts, a grassroots organization of drone users and manufacturers, is encouraging Canadians opposed to the new regulations to follow their campaign. The organization has more than 2,000 signatures on a petition that will be delivered to Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau.

But others in the industry say they support Transport Canada’s rules. Drone Delivery Canada, which is currently testing the potential of drones for delivery in Canada, released a statement in support of the new regulations.

“While these rules will have no direct impact on our business, we support them because they begin to establish ground rules and allow us to move forward in working with government to establish policies and regulations that keep pace with the progress being made by the industry,” Richard Buzbuzian, Drone Delivery Canada president, said in the statement.

Holding back hobbyists — who are spending hundreds, or even thousands, on drones that must be programmed to fly — stifles the industry’s development too, Habib said. After all, as with personal computers decades ago, many who begin experimenting with drones as hobbyists will move into commercial or research work.

Because they are ‘vehicles’ and not toys, regulations are needed, Habib said. But the rules should be clear and straightforward, much like how they are for operating other vehicles, like cars and motorcycles.

“This is a vehicle. There’s very qualified people that can fly this,” Habib said of the drones covered under Transport Canada’s rules. “We have a lot of recreational people who take the rules and regulations very seriously. Now you have really responsible people being held back from the industry.”