NOTICE: check out our new post about the rules that are now in effect!
At the end of October, Transport Canada presented a regulatory update at Unmanned Canada- Unmanned System Canada’s fall conference in Vancouver, BC. While specifics such as release dates for the highly anticipated regulations were not a part of the announcements, we saw some helpful details that paint a picture of what we can expect. From this, we’re able to illustrate the expected paths to compliance under the new framework.
Before continuing, please note that the information below is what we anticipate will become regulation. These regulations are not yet in force.
- 2018 is still TC’s goal for regulation release (Canada Gazette 2 – CG2)
- SFOCs will still be valid following CG2 during the implementation of regulations; a 6-month timeframe
- SFOCs can still be issued for unique operations during the 6-month implementation period
- While it wasn’t said, it was implied that operators will be encouraged, after CG2 drop, to work toward the appropriate permit rather than a standing SFOC.
- There will no longer be a recreational vs. commercial distinction. Operations will be categorized as basic or advanced. A fun flight can be “advanced” and a research project or work for pay can be “basic”.
- These rules apply to all remotely piloted aircraft between 250g and 25kgs
- Unmanned Aircraft will be referred to as Drones or RPAS for Remotely Piloted Aircraft System on TC documents moving forward
BASIC OR ADVANCED
To decide if you pursue a basic authorization or advanced authorization, the main deciding factor is the class of airspace you intend to operate in. If your flights will only ever be in class G uncontrolled airspace, you may only need a basic certification. If you want to be able to operate in classes C-F, you will need an advanced authorization. The table below provides more information on the regulatory categories for basic and advanced operations.
250g – 25kgs, operated within Visual Line of Sight (VLOS)
Quick reminder on aerodromes. They are any area of land or water, including a frozen surface that is used, designed, prepared or equipped for the arrival, departure, movement or servicing of aircraft. It includes heliports, airports, bodies of water with floatplanes etc.
The administration of the knowledge exams for basic, advanced and flight reviewer will be through Transport Canada’s online Drone Mangement Portal. This tool will also enable drone registrations.
Flight reviewers must be associated with a training school that provides compliant ground school. The initial round of flight reviewers will be certified to conduct their reviews after passing a flight reviewer exam around the same date as CG2 drop. The next eligible flight reviewers will have to meet the additional requirement of holding an advanced certificate for a period of 6 months before they are able to write the flight reviewer exam.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO IF YOU…
…ARE A CURRENT STANDING SFOC HOLDER with an SFOC that expires before January 1, 2019
Renew your Standing SFOC as soon as possible. You’ll be able to operate under your standing SFOC until you complete the new requirements to hold your RPAS certificate.
…ARE A CURRENT STANDING SFOC HOLDER with an SFOC expiring in the spring or summer of 2019
You probably won’t need to renew (particularly if the expiry is after, say, June 2019) if you get moving on your RPAS certificate requirements right away.
…DO NOT YET HAVE A STANDING SFOC and need to fly in January
Get 3 applications + standing application in before the end of the year. If not, you may have some downtime while you gain your certification under the new framework.
…DO NOT YET HAVE A STANDING SFOC and don’t mind being “grounded” for a bit
If it’s reasonable for you to get 3 applications + standing application in before the end of the year, do that. If not, you may have some downtime while you gain your certification under the new framework.
We don’t know exactly when the regulations will come into force, but given the timelines and dates TC has set for themselves, this should play out throughout the spring of 2019.
UPDATE | 2018-11-16
I received a few great questions following the publication of this blog post.
1. What happens to current Ground School certificate holders? Do they have to take an additional exam or will they be grandfathered into the new process without an exam?
- There will not be any grandfathering through of knowledge. Everyone from Airline Transport Pilot License holders to first-time Phantom fliers will need to write the knowledge exam that is appropriate for the certificate they’re pursuing (basic or advanced).
2. Will current ground school certificate holders have to take the flight school exam?
- If they’re pursuing an advanced certificate, they’ll need to meet a skill requirement in front of a flight reviewer after they’ve written their advanced knowledge test.
3. We have clients from all over Canada. Will they now have to find a local flight examiner?
- Yes. Anyone who is currently on the list of compliant training organizations has been contacted by TC to put forth candidates to be flight reviewers. Transport Canada is confident this “first batch” of reviewers will provide adequate coverage for all areas of Canada.
4. We have a national standing SFOC (Complex) as do a few of our clients. Does this get replaced with a permit to fly in the future?
- Pilots will now be certified to fly individually, rather than under an organization like the SFOC provided. Individuals will need to pursue the appropriate certificate for their intended operations and there may be additional requirements at a company level to ensure consistency in the operations conducted (operations manuals, safety systems, checklists etc)
It’s easy to get excited about drones. Unless you have an Aston Martin equipped with missile launchers in your garage, drones are the closest thing to a Bond gadget that you can actually buy. There are ample predictions estimating the global drone industry to be worth over a hundred billion dollars within the next two years and the applications for drones already seem infinite. But don’t get lost in the possibilities – build a plan. Like any technology drones are an investment and planning for how to implement drones in your business is the best way to ensure your investment is profitable.
Start with proof of concept. Find a case study that matches your industry or contract a professional to do a job for you. Once you have proof of concept you can better understand how drones are going to benefit your business. The proof will help determine how to measure the success of the program and focus on tangible outcomes. Quantifiable results that directly affect your business’s bottom line are typically the goal here.
Recognize and rank opportunities. Learn where will you obtain the highest ROI. Starting small and establishing success in areas with the highest ROI supports establishing a successful drone program and keeps costs in check. Implementing drones in one or two key areas will make measuring results and managing the program easier. Not to mention, there is a learning curve with anything new and learning can be costly if you’re not careful.
Understand all the costs. There are more than meet the eye. Drones can deliver data at a fraction of the cost of many traditional methods, but it takes more than heading to your local electronic store and tossing a drone into the sky. Knowing all the costs allows you to make an informed decision on what part of your drone program should be contracted out and what parts should be done internally.
Here are a few things no drone program should be without:
- A Drone
- This may seem obvious but do your research and talk to a professional. It’s worth it to get the right drone the first time.
- There is a lot of great software out there to collect and analyze data. Software can be pricey so find out what works best for your applications
- A Well-Trained Pilot
- There are an increasing number of people that can fly drones, but not everyone is qualified for your jobs. Make sure your pilot is up to speed on their certifications and understands the regulations. Liability is not limited by negligence.
- Visual Observer
- It’s easier to lose sight of a drone than most people think. Every pilot needs a VO. Not only is it a legal obligation, but distractions happen and having a second set of eyes that knows what they’re doing helps a lot.
- There are two types, liability and hull. Liability is a must, and hull insurance is recommended especially if you need a more expensive drone for your applications. Most pilots have experienced a crash at some point.
- Data analyst
- With the influx of data companies are able to gather using drones many legacy systems are unable to process it all. Someone needs to understand what all that golden data your drone is mining means.
- Company-specific written documents
- Think standard operating procedures, safety protocols, pre-flight and post-flight checklists. These help to keep your company out of the headlines for the wrong reasons and reduce growing pains as you look to implement drones. Working with a professional here is recommended, the general public has limited understanding of aviation and airspace.
- All parts of a business are managed, drone operations shouldn’t be the exception. There are records that should be kept, and knowledge that can be gained from a well-managed program.
Know when to ask for help. You are a master of your business and there is no shame in admitting you might not be a master of drones. If you want to hire a pro for a job to see drones in action before diving head first into the industry it’s probably a good idea. If you don’t have hours of time for research or the means to manage the program, there are resources available. Don’t let obstacles like these scare you away. The hype about drones is supported with success stories. Make your business one of them.
When it comes to making money with your drone, it all comes down to the payload. Really, the drone is just a tool for putting the camera or another sensor into an area that was too expensive or prohibitive to do otherwise. This is where the drone industry gets exciting. What applications can you dream up using these cool technologies?
Cameras are the most popular type of payload and are typically at least one of the sensors onboard. They can be as small as a keychain like on FPV racing drones or large, cinema-quality cameras with complex gimbal set-ups weighing tens of pounds. Some aircraft can even handle two cameras and have one for pilot orientation and the other geared for a specific purpose such as low light operations, 360 degrees or with zoom capabilities.
This highly versatile piece of tech can be used in agriculture, surveillance, accident scene assessment, wildlife tracking, search and rescue, infrastructure assessments for heat loss or for machinery diagnostics for heat build up.
Synthetic Aperture Radar
The details of how this impressive technology works are a bit beyond this post but the ultimate result is that this sensor can “see” through cloud cover, foliage, even structures. Since it uses a lot of power, it’s currently on large aircraft and satellites and primarily used to do assessments and monitoring of ice caps, earthquakes, resource monitoring, intelligence acquisition etc.
Multi and Hyper Spectral
Multispectral imaging such as NDVI or Normalized Difference Vegetation Indexing is used in precision agriculture. These sensors read bands of frequencies reflected off the surface below and crunch that data through software programs. This data provides insights into crop health, land management and hundreds of applications outside of agriculture like ecology, oil and gas, oceanography and atmospheric studies.
Chemical/Biological “Sniffer” Sensors
Using spectrometers, drones can detect airborne biological information for atmospheric analysis, helping meteorologists make better forecasts. Through the aid of algorithms, these sensors can also detect abnormalities in the cases of chemical attacks or gas leaks.
Covering everything from spraying pesticides to dropping off your Amazon order, releasable payloads are a huge opportunity. Think Hunger Games style parachuting supplies or aid to people in need. However, regulatory bodies are understandably restrictive when it comes to dropping things from aircraft. Once safe and reliable systems enable beyond visual line of sight flying and clean releases, we can expect to see this side of the industry grow beyond the current applications into areas like aerial pharmacies.
Providing asset and inventory tracking, airborne RFID scanners allow drones to scan areas in a repeatable, cost-effective manner. Anything you’ve attached your tags to can be traced by simply flying overhead.
Similar to RFID scanners, drones can pick up on and follow tagged equipment, people or assets. New technology even allows tracking via camera image, rather than needing to provide a pre-established tag. Although there are limitations, this is a promising avenue for the future.
Although there are some extra requirements before you’re allowed to sling a laser around the skies, laser payloads like LiDAR enable surface mapping through foliage, clouds and ground cover
What did we forget? What payload technology gets you most excited about the future of drones?