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What the new rules mean for drone hobbyists

The word “drone” might conjure up dim memories of learning about bee colonies in elementary school. Today, however, most people think of the small, remote-controlled aircraft used to record innumerable videos on YouTube.

Drones are remarkably stable and are comparatively easy to operate when compared to traditional model airplanes and helicopters. They’re very popular for providing dramatic video footage for many purposes, from travelogues to extreme sports and even virtual tours of homes for sale. Unfortunately, a drone can also be a flying hazard to people and property.

Drone regulations no longer up in the air

As the pace of technological development increases, it’s becoming a common occurrence to regulate a technology after public acceptance popularizes it. Drones are an excellent example. They’ve gone from being a niche market for hobbyists to a readily available product you can buy at big box electronics retailers. For all their popularity, however, until recently there were no laws governing their use, a point underlined by the general director of civil aviation after a drone collided with a moving vehicle in Dec. 2015 but no charges were laid.

It took until March 16, 2017, for the Government of Canada to create operating regulations enforceable by law. The highlights of the new laws, which apply to non-commercial drones weighing more than 250g and up to 35kg include:

  • No flying higher than 90m
  • No flying within 9km of an aerodrome
  • No flying within 75m of buildings, vessels, vehicles, people or animals
  • No flying within restricted or controlled airspace
  • Drone must be within 500m of operator and visible at all times

Additionally, operators are required to label their drones with their name, telephone number and address.

Fines for illegal operation of a drone are steep, with a maximum fine of $3,000. Other laws may apply to certain drone-related offences, such as putting an aircraft at risk, a crime punishable by a fine of up to $25,000 and/or possible jail time.

All of this may seem a bit like overkill to hobbyists just looking to have some fun. The truth is, however, that improperly used drones pose a real threat to airplanes, property and unwary bystanders. In 2014, there were 41 safety incidents reported involving drones. Last year, the total was 148.

Where’s a guy supposed to fly?

Transportation Minister Marc Garneau, a former astronaut and no stranger to the dangers of flight, noted that drone operators who use their craft for commercial, research or academic purposes require special certificates. Recreational users do not, nor do they require any training to use the equipment. While the new regulations are certain to meet with resistance, he felt it was important to have rules in place immediately. A complete overhaul of federal regulations for autonomous and unmanned aircraft is scheduled for June 2017.

Most urban areas are now off-limits to drone flyers in Canada. The Minister recommends contacting the Model Aeronautics Association of Canada for advice on where to fly, or to fly in obviously remote areas of the country.