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Canada is introducing new drone rules

by François Shalom, Montreal Gazette
Ottawa is loosening restrictions on flying unmanned aerial systems.
Currently, anyone who operates a drone that weighs two kilograms or more for non-recreational purposes must obtain a permit called a Special Flight Operations Certificate from Transport Canada.

Martin Eley, director general of civil aviation for Transport Canada, said at the 12th annual Unmanned Systems Canada conference Wednesday that the requirement will be changed later this month, likely on Nov. 27.

Under new exemptions, the certificate will not be required for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) under two kilograms and “certain operations involving UAVs under 25 kilograms,” according to a Transport Canada press release. Operators of UAVs over 25 kg must still apply for the certificate.

“The new approach will apply to commercial operations and contribute to a strong safety regime for those on the ground and in the skies,” the announcement said.

“Once the changes come into effect later this month, operators must check on Transport Canada’s website if the exemptions apply to them and respect specific safety conditions, including requirements to operate within visual line-of-sight, maximum altitudes and away from built-up areas and aerodromes.”

Transport Canada says it also simplifying the application process and reducing the time it takes to issue the certificates for larger UAV operators.

Last month, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt launched a safety awareness campaign for UAVs.

Drones — a word the industry and Eley dislike for its instant identification with military aircraft that have assassinated terrorists — have become wildly popular for civil use in recent years.

They run the gamut from a consumer toy that weighs less than a pound to large Predator unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that circle at 60,000 feet and are used for surveillance and reconnaissance — and for targeting enemies.

The regulator will introduce new rules and norms for drones in an attempt to strike the right balance between safety and the growing use of the unmanned — but not unpiloted — machines, Eley said.

Stewart Baillie, a former National Research Council flight operations director who now heads the Unmanned Systems trade association, said that the remote-controlled aircraft are becoming an essential tool for a wide array of applications.

“In agriculture, for instance,” said Baillie. “You can now pinpoint which part of the field needs (fertilizer), and you can even see how far apart you should plant the seeds.”

Eley said that in 2010, his department issued 66 SFOCs. The figure last year was 949. Many consumers buy machines from China or an electronic store and fly them for recreational purposes, which require no permit, he said.

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