New drone rules, licensing requirements take flight in 2019

The rapid rise in the popularity of drones for recreational and professional purposes has led Canadian regulators to lay out new rules governing the use of these increasingly prevalent devices.

This has spurred many new questions for drone owners: Where can I fly? Do I need to register my drone with the government? Do I need a pilot’s certificate? And what do I need to know about respecting the privacy of people on the ground?

In early January, Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced new rules for operating drones and other types of remotely piloted aircraft systems that take effect June 1, 2019.

Before your company takes to the skies, be sure that your staff are familiar with the new Canadian Civil Aviation Regulations.

What’s changing?

To fly a drone in Canada, you must be at least 14 years of age and fall into one of the following categories:

  1. Canadian citizen

  2. Permanent resident

  3. Canadian corporation (whether incorporated federally or provincially)

  4. Canadian government agency

Drones weighing between 250 grams and 25 kilograms must be registered with Transport Canada and marked with a registration number. Drones under 250 grams do not need to be registered.

Drone operators must not be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and the drone must always be within a visual line of sight (“VLOS”). This means not flying into clouds or fog, or behind trees, buildings or other (even partial) obstructions.

There are two types of drone registrations: Basic operations and advanced operations.

A basic operations registration is adequate if:

  • You fly only in uncontrolled airspace;

  • You fly at least 30 metres (100 feet) away from bystanders (measured horizontally); or

  • You never fly over bystanders.

You will need an advanced operations registration if:

  • You might fly in controlled airspace;

  • You might fly within 30 metres (100 feet) of bystanders (measured horizontally);

  • You are considering flying over bystanders.

When the new rules take effect, the maximum ceiling will be raised from the current 90 metres to 122 metres (400 feet). Drones must also be at least three nautical miles (5.6 kilometres) from airports and one nautical mile (1.9 kilometres) away from heliports, and always far away from other aircraft.

Both basic and advanced operations require a small exam. Advanced operators must also pass a flight review.

Under current rules, it is questionable whether recreational drones may be operated anywhere within city limits, as they must be flown at least nine kilometres from an aerodrome. This includes hospital helipads and the Ottawa River, which is home to seaplane bases such as the Ottawa/Gatineau Water Aerodrome and the Constance Lake Water Aerodrome.

How does this affect my business?

If your business intends to fly a drone in Ottawa, an advanced operations pilot certificate is recommended. Keep in mind that drone operators must avoid emergency operations and advertised events, such as outdoor concerts, parades and mass casualty incidents. Special permission from Transport Canada is required if you intend to fly a drone during an emergency or at an advertised event.

It will cost $25 to issue an advanced operations pilot certificate. Taking (or re-taking) an examination for a flight reviewer rating will cost $50, and the endorsement of an advanced operations certificate with a flight reviewer rating will cost $125.

It is crucial to respect the privacy rights of others when you fly. Transport Canada recommends that prospective drone operators review relevant sections of the Criminal Code, including offences against air or maritime safety, breaking and entering, and mischief, as well as the Trespass Act and laws related to voyeurism and privacy.

Fines are much higher for corporations than for individuals. For example, individuals face fines up to $3,000 for putting aircraft and people at risk. Corporations, on the other hand, face fines up to $15,000 for the same. There are also fines for flying without a drone pilot certificate, flying unregistered or unmarked drones, or flying where you are not allowed.

Civil liability

Securing public liability insurance is highly recommended, though not required.

It is best practice to ensure that it is safe to fly before take-off. Make sure your batteries are charged and the weather is appropriate. Flying a drone alongside a more experienced operator is highly recommended for beginners. And always remember, no drunk droning! Drones should never be operated while under the influence of alcohol or narcotics – prescription or otherwise.

Theoretically, a drone operator taking a photo or a video of someone without their informed consent could be subject to a claim for breach of privacy. A court would consider whether the conduct in question was “highly offensive” to a “reasonable person.” Drone operators are also potentially liable for other breaches of privacy, such as the theft of personal information.

In addition, drone operators could be liable for property damage arising from negligent conduct. As with any other tort, a potential plaintiff would be required to demonstrate that the drone operator: (a) owed the injured party a duty of care; (b) failed to conform to the standard of care; and (c) caused the loss by way of their negligent conduct.

Canadians only?

If your company intends to fly outside the rules, you will need to get special permission from Transport Canada before you fly. You will also need special permission if you are not a Canadian citizen, permanent resident of Canada, or a corporation incorporated in Canada.

Individuals and businesses should be aware of these changes, and ensure they are in compliance. Not abiding by these rules may lead not only to financial or legal repercussions, but also to injury or a serious accident.

Fly safe, and have fun!

David Contant is a partner at Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP, and a member of the Commercial Litigation, Insurance Defence, and Personal Injury groups. He would like to acknowledge Adam Soliman, student-at-law, for assisting in writing this article.