Oct 20, 2020·5 min read
Drones, UAVs, and RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems) are all terms to describe an aircraft controlled by a computer or a person and flown for a specific purpose. It could be for fun, as a hobby, or for companies like Hover, where we sell Drone Services.
In either case, until recently, it was the wild west of rules. Until 2014, the FAA (USA’s Federal Aviation Authority) had banned commercial operations with Drones. Since the change, commercial usage of the technology has exploded, with cheap drones being sold for a few hundred dollars at BestBuy’s across North America. Anybody could get into flying them!
This adoption is a great sign, it signifies the advancement of lifesaving applications such as drone delivery of vital services (ie. blood), as shown by Zipline’s successful blood deliveries in Rwanda.
Defense, real estate, marketing, construction, agriculture, and even the movie industry benefits from drone usage.
Associated with all of these commercial activities are regulations. Transport Canada has consulted numerous companies, including Hover, on the appropriate regulations to put in place ensuring a good balance between limiting the risk posed by drone usage, and ensuring that private sector operations from small businesses can still flourish and grow.
Unfortunately, there are numerous examples where illegal drone usage has been problematic. On the set of one of the Fast and Furious (who knows which, they all are basically the same), 3 large drones, each worth over $150k, crashed. Luckily nobody was hurt, but those are considered minor instances. One of the most notable instances took place in December 2018 at Gatwick Airport, located in the UK. Over 2 days, hundreds of flights were canceled because of confirmed drone sightings above the runways. Over 140,000 passengers and 1,000 flights were affected, costing millions.
Just this year, an RCMP drone collided with one of their Police Helicoptersdestroying the drone and causing 100’s of thousands in damage to the aircraft.
In 2017, a drone damaged the wing of a plane as it was approaching the runway. This could have caused a fatality, and as a result, Transport Canada implemented new laws regulating drone usage in Canada. They implemented a tedious system which required SFOC’s (Special Flight Operations Certificates) for each flight. These are a roughly 20-page document indicating training, background, drone type, emergency procedures, insurance, and site surveys.
For these reasons and more, this was a terrible system. For a small $250 real estate photography job, a company would have to spend hours, sometimes days, creating the appropriate documents and then waiting for approval. This meant many operators didn’t bother to apply and conducted operations without approval. Nobody was ever fined for this practice.
To the credit of Transport Canada, they listened and adjusted their regulations. On June 1, 2019, they rolled out a series of new regulations aiming to make it easier for new pilots to fly. Even with the work being done by Transport Canada, people still didn’t listen.
On June 17, 2019, when the Raptors FINALLY won the NBA championships, there were huge celebrations. One drone pilot decided to fly their drone above the massive crowds that gathered. Luckily the flight was unproblematic, but if you are ever curious about what would happen to the skin if the drone did crash, just google drone prop injuries. They cut fingers wide open on the smaller models and can take them off completely on the larger ones. Not only that, if the drone crashed, it was almost guaranteed to hit someone, likely on the head. This was the pre-covid era, with shoulder to shoulder crowds.
Practically every news station in North America and some European ones covered the story and showed the drone footage. The standard operating procedure for viral videos is to pay a fee or sell the footage to news stations when they want to use it.
Transport Canada fined the photographer a few thousand dollars, but the footage was worth well over $10k, and this individual was not banned from flying drones in the future. Imagine the blowback if an unlicensed plane operator flew illegally above the Parliament Buildings, or by the CN Tower! It would mean jail time, and certainly, at least this person would have been banned from flying again. Same with someone who recklessly drove a car without a license.
In built-up areas like Toronto, there are lots of interference, and areas where the drone can lose connection to the controller. The drones are programmed with software that has a feature called “Return to Home.” This means it will autonomously fly back to the spot where it took off in the event of an emergency. The drone this operator was using does not have side-facing sensors, preventing the avoidance of the massive buildings on either side of the crowd. So, if this occured, it would have certainly resulted in a crash.
Even with a clear line of sight, sometimes my drones will lose connection because I am in a built-up areas like where the Raptors Parade was. Yes, nothing happened in this specific incident, but its a big deal. If it had crashed and hurt someone, drone usage would have been severely restricted, impacting many small businesses that rely on them to make a living. When people flagrantly disobey rules set in place to keep people safe, it hurts the reputation of the entire industry. This guy even put up a Gofundme to help cover the costs of the fine… He is just an amateur photographer, but is still is using the drone content he took, possibly for money. This shows people that they should break the rules if it will make them money because nothing will happen even if you get caught.
Unfortunately, it seems that Transport Canada is going to be reactive rather than proactive. This WILL end in someone getting badly hurt or possibly dying. Good drone operations should be encouraged, and with these devices being flown more frequently, having a system similar to drivers ed may be a way to solve the problems associated with novices who don’t understand the technology flying where they are not supposed to.
Hopefully, this doesn’t happen, but the pattern indicates it will and sometime soon. More enforcement, awareness, and consultation with the companies legally conducting operations is needed to prevent serious injuries or death from occurring, hopefully before its too late.
Drone safety will increasingly become an important aspect of our lives as more and more drones are deployed into the skies. The laws associated with them should be effective, yet non restrictive to the growth needed in this industry, but current laws are far too draconian and don't do enough to punish those who disobey them.
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