Responding to a reported tripling of recreational unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) incidents since 2014, Transport Canada issued new operational rules March 16, effective immediately. The new rules affect operations of recreational UAVs weighing between 250g (.55 lb.) and 35kg (77 lbs.), and include the specification that recreational operators cannot fly UAVs within nine kilometers (5.6 miles) of the center of any airport, heliport, aerodrome or water aerodrome where aircraft take off and land.

The rules will be in effect for a period of up to one year, until permanent regulations are put in place.

Operators of UAVs for commercial, academic or research purposes will not be affected, Transport Canada said, adding that rules already in place “are effective and most commercial users operate their [UAVs] in a safe manner.”

Also included in the measures are prohibitions on flying recreational UAVs at night. Additionally, UAVs cannot be flown higher than 90 meters (295 ft.) and nor can they be flown within 75 meters (246 ft.) of buildings, vehicles or people. Finally, all recreational UAVs must be marked with the operator’s contact information. Failure to comply with the new flying restrictions and conditions could lead to fines of up to C$3,000 ($2,231), Transport Canada said.

“I take very seriously the increased risk to aviation safety and to people on the ground caused by [UAVs],” Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau said while announcing the new measures at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport March 16.  “That is why I am proceeding with this measure which takes effect immediately, to enhance the safety of aviation and the public while we work to bring into force permanent regulations.”

According to Transport Canada, UAV incidents increased from 41 in 2014 to 148 in 2016.

Calgary-based WestJet and Halifax-based Jazz Aviation, plus airports in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Halifax all voiced quick support of the measures.

“We are pleased that Minister Garneau has taken this step to immediately ensure the safety of our [passengers], crew and aircraft with the implementation of new rules around [UAVs],” WestJet EVP-operations Cam Kenyon said. “We look forward to the rules becoming permanent law in the future.”

Jazz president Colin Copp also praised the announcement, saying recreational UAV use “is a matter of great concern for Jazz.”

“The safety of our passengers is our top priority, and implementing proactive measures such as these is vital to mitigating against evolving safety risks,” Greater Toronto Airports Authority corporate safety and security director Jennifer Sullivan said.

“Flying of recreational [UAVs] near airports poses an unnecessary risk to aviation,” Calgary Airport Authority VP-operations Bernie Humphries said. “Today’s announcement … is a significant step toward reducing risks from [UAV] activity.”

“Transport Canada’s continued efforts … address the dangers of recreational [UAV] use,” YVR [Vancouver International Airport] president and CEO Craig Richmond said. “We are committed to working with our partners to ensure that [UAV] operators understand and comply with the new rules.” In 2015, YVR installed “No Drone Zone” signage across Sea Island, the island on which YVR and the small residential village of Burkeville reside.

"The introduction of this temporary order will help protect airspace users and the traveling public. It is particularly important to draw attention to the key role that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and local law enforcement agencies play in addressing the obvious safety risk posed by the reckless operation of UAVs," IATA Air Traffic Management and Infrastructure Director Rob Eagles said. "Looking ahead, advanced technology will provide new ways to appropriately regulate recreational, commercial and state UAV operations."

The Drone Manufacturers Alliance (DMA), which represents UAV manufacturers 3DR, DJI, GoPro and Parrot, blasted the regulations, saying they would “hurt innovation and education without a corresponding improvement in safety.”

“The overwhelming majority of Canadian drone pilots operate safely and responsibly, and they are the ones who will be hurt by far-reaching restrictions, not the tiny number of irresponsible operators who have already violated existing drone safety rules,” DMA director Kara Calvert said. “Technology and education provide a better solution than a hastily written ban."

Mark Nensel