Operators in Canada are re-assessing their equipment and operations in light of new rules that substantially open the skies to small unmanned aircraft systems.
New rules, enacted on November 26 by Transport Canada, the air authority of Canada, significantly reduces the paperwork and time required to fly commercially or "for gain." Especially important are more relaxed rules for sub 2-kilogram UAS, which makes it substantially easier to respond to "spot news."
"Canada has leap ahead and become the one of the worlds best places to operate a UAV," said Ian Hannah, Vice President of the Professional Society of Drone Journalists, and owner and operator of Avrobotics in Toronto, Canada.
"Transport Canada's recent announcement is a progressive and intelligent approach to this important technology."
Gone are SFOC requirements for UAS under two kilograms, which includes many popular small drones such as the DJI Phantom, 3DRobotics IRIS, and a variety of DIY drones. SFOCs, or Special Flight Operation Certificates, could take 20 days or longer for Transport Canada to process for first-time or infrequent flyers, but will no longer be needed for these small UAS.
These aircraft aren't without rules, however. The pilot in command must be at least 18 years old, or at least 16 years old if supervised and operating for academic purposes. Flights must be conducted within visual range (VLOS), and at or below 300 feet above ground level (AGL). Additionally, operators must have at least $100,000 in liability insurance.
New rules stipulate that UAS not be operated within five nautical miles from airports or built-up areas, which could create issues for journalists wishing to cover news in suburban or urban areas. Operators can apply for access to these areas by filing for an SFOC.
Again, time may be a factor with these applications, but Transport Canada plans also to expedite the process for regular customers. UAS in the sub-2 kilo category may not be operated on days where there is less than two miles of visibility on the ground, which might also create issues for journalists who need to cover a story in slightly cloudy or foggy conditions.
Many operators of larger UAS are welcoming relaxed rules, as well, though restrictions do apply.
For aircraft between 2.1 and 25 kilograms operated within VLOS, pilots must be at least 18 years old without exception, must have category 4 medical certification and ground school education. Hexcopters, octocopters, and commercial aircraft such as the Aeryon Scout fit into this category.
Additional training and ground equipment may be required for BVLOS operation. But no pilot's license will be required, as is rumored to be the case with proposed small UAS rules in the United States.
Hannah cautions operators to mind the weight of their aircraft, and to abide by safe operating procedures.
"However it is important to note many systems are above that weight and regardless of weight category it does not absolve anyone from operating safely and in accordance to the guidelines posted by Transport Canada," he said.