UAV rules, training, help keep skies safe

Transport Canada has developed regulations and recommendations 
for unmanned aerial vehicle use:

Radio controlled and autonomous small aircraft are becoming a bigger part of the skies worldwide.

In Western Canada, farmers, farm service providers and agrologists are taking to the skies to gain rapid insights into the condition of crops and fields and to help develop longer-term data packages.

Rules about who can fly what, where and when are largely misunderstood.

“What” is one of the most important aspects of Canadian regulations. If the small aircraft is being used for commercial purposes, such as farming, and is two to 25 kilograms, the operator can run it without a permit from Transport Canada.

However, a large number of other standards must be met.

One of the most important, whether commercially or recreationally, is that the unmanned aerial vehicle not be autonomous.

A Special Flight Operations Certificate must be obtained from Transport Canada if the drone is run using an autopilot system that allows it to fly a path set out for precise image gathering.

These are offered for a limited time for agricultural applications: from a few days to one year.

The agency tends to extend that time depending on its confidence in the operator’s training and experience level.

Initial certificates are issued for a tight geographic area and will often be required for each use. At the very least, a flight plan will need to be filed for each use.

Completion of a ground school course and a radio operator’s certificate for aviation use are also required to pilot unmanned aerial vehicles in this category.

Rob Saik of Agritrend felt his company was going to need the ability to use low-level aircraft to scout and record field information for its customers.

“We wanted to ensure that when we did it, we did it properly, within the regulations and laws of Canada,” said Saik.

Agritrend chose to set up a course for its agrologists and also offer the training to others.

“There are a great many people coming up with UAV ideas out there, but it isn’t as simple as people think,” he said.

“The hardware has to work and be simple to fly. It has to be reliable. The sensors have to be useful. And we have to be able to render the data that is obtained from flights quickly. None of that is easy.”

Saik said his company worked with Mark Hovdestad, who heads up the RCMP’s drone program, to create the SkyScout system. A certification ground school is planned for pilots in Calgary April 21-22.

“That will provide the attendees with full, corporate SFOC certifications that will allow them to avoid having to file flight plans each time they want to scout a field … and that is for the whole 2015 season,” said Saik.

The $2,000 program is offered to drone pilots from Agritrend’s agronomist group as well as producers and others looking to provide services this year, and it includes the training and testing for the ROC-A.”

Warren Bills of Agritrend said ground school attendees will also have to show Transport Canada that they have had product training on the drones they plan to operate.

For those using Precision Hawk UAVs the Agritrend program is providing the training. For those using other manufacturers units those folks will have to show they have taken training to ensure they are competent with those tools.

“To obtain the certification you have to learn a 125 page document,” he said. “We streamlined that into a couple of day’s process. I would anticipate our offering more of these this year: in the fall for sure, and if there is demand, we will put one on this summer.”

  • Cannot be operated autonomously.
  • Operator must be 18 years old, well trained and know the rules of the sky.
  • Must have at least $100,000 liability insurance.
  • Must be alert, not tired or under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Inspect the UAV and site before flight to ensure they are safe.
  • Carry a copy of the UAV exemption, proof of liability insurance, contact information and UAV system limitations.
  • Have a fire extinguisher on site.
  • Respect laws from all levels of government.
  • Get permission before going onto private property.
  • Keep the UAV in direct line of sight and always be able to see it with your own eyes.
  • Operate only one UAV at a time, with a single remote control.
  • Give right-of-way to manned aircraft.
  • Fly during daylight and in good weather: no clouds, snow or icy conditions.
  • Create and follow procedures for landing and recovering the UAV and for contacting emergency responders and air traffic control.
  • Have an emergency plan ahead of time.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s operating and emergency procedures, including those if the remote control loses contact with the aircraft.
  • Verify that radio frequencies/transmission and electronic devices won’t affect control of the UAV.
  • Assess the risk of losing connection with the UAV and decide when to use the flight termination setting.
  • Inform air traffic services if the UAV enters controlled airspace.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s maintenance/assembly instructions.
  • Ensure the UAV does not have an emergency locator transmitter.
  • Report accidents to Transport Canada and stop operations until risks have been addressed.
  • Immediately stop all operations if the exemption requirements can’t be observed or if the safety of people, property or other aircraft is at risk.
  • Stay at least 150 metres away from people, animals, buildings, structures, and vehicles not involved in operating the UAV.
  • Operators must be 18 years old, or at least 16 years old to conduct research under academic supervision.
  • Stay at least 30 metres away from people, animals, buildings, structures and vehicles not involved in the operation.

About the author


Stories from our other publications