Airspace Awareness Is Everybody's Business

By Sterling Cripps
Canadian Unmanned Inc.
            No  questions about it, flying drones is fun and exciting.  This new technology niche has given us the ability to see things from different angles and heights that even manned aircraft are unable to do.  We also benefit from the instant gratification of being able to purchase and fly within minutes of receipt.  This is unheard of in manned aviation, it takes days and weeks of training before one can safely solo in a manned aircraft.  But now through the use of drones we can be airborne in minutes.   So is the new norm?  Yes it is, these tiny flying robots are here to stay.

            So what about the regulations?  Around the globe, each country is responsible for developing and managing their own set of regulations that pertain to the aviation industry whilst agreeing to an international set of general regulations established by an organizational called the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).  Drones are now becoming a part of these regulations.   The level of enforcement of these regulations will vary from country to country

            Here in Canada airspace is public domain that is highly regulated by Transport Canada (TC).   Unmanned Air Systems (UAV's) or Drones have  now become a part of that regulatory fabric.    There are rules and regulations in place that define and determine what is the correct and legal way of operating this new drone technology in Canadian airspace.   Drones, by TC definition are considered "Aircraft" and those who fly or operate them are considered "Legitimate Airspace Users".  Having said that,  this means that if you are flying a drone you are required to know what type of airspace you are operating in and whether or not you are flying legally or operating unlawfully.  Unfortunately most users are totally unaware that this is the case and fly without any realization that they are breaking the law or endangering the general public.  Over time and with active socialization of this industry this trend will change for the better.

            Take for instance the Greater Vancouver Area.  The airspace that surrounds the Vancouver Airport (YVR) out to a radius of 7 nautical miles (9km) is "C" Class controlled airspace from the surface up to 2500 feet above the ground.  That is roughly all of Vancouver south of False Creek, well into Burnaby and as far south as Ladner.   Flight of a drone within this area is strictly prohibited without a Special Flight Operating Certificate (SFOC) issued from TC.   This is very complex and busy airspace.   Small drones flying in this airspace constitute a real time hazard to general  aviation.  Drones also have a high probability of crashing and  they have been documented flying away in uncontrolled flight in both horizontal and vertical vectors.

            Not only is the airspace an issue, but the density of infrastructure and population on the ground is also considered by TC in determining the safe flight criteria for all small drones.  The regulations also prohibit flying within 5nm of a built up area.  It is a real challenge to find this type of open area in the lower mainland.   Although you might claim you are only flying recreationally and for fun, these rules still apply, regardless.

            The reasons that these rule are in place is to protect the public.  Small drones are not considered airworthy like their manned counterparts.  You Tube is testimony as to how small drones are unreliable and how operators display reckless and unsafe flight practices.   Not all operators need to be tarnished with the same brush as the bad operators, however every operator must know what are in the regulations.  Fines up to twenty five thousand dollars $25,000.00 can be levied to companies or individuals that choose to operate without  a valid SFOC.  In January 2016 an individual was charged for operating a drone in close proximity to the Calgary Airport (YYC) and received a $10,000.00 fine from both Transport Canada and NAV CANADA.

The TC website is the first place to start to determine where you stand with regards to operating your drone.  Information pertaining to the regulations for  both recreational and commercial drone use can be found on the following link:

            The good news story is that you can operate your drone legally and safely if you make application for, and obtain a SFOC through the offices Transport Canada.  This can done through one of the five TC regional offices and you would make your application to the region that you intend to operate.

            Learning to fly your drone is one thing, learning the ground school and theory relating to airspace is another.  Canadian Unmanned Inc. (CUI) has trained over 1300 students in Canada from coast to coast and remains "Canada's First Choice" in professional drone pilot training since 2009.  Canadian Unmanned Inc. meets Transport Canada's Knowledge Requirements for Pilots Operating UAV's of less than 25Kg and within line of sight.  In fact, CUI was on the TC committee that developed these knowledge requirements in 2014.

The link to the TC Knowledge Requirements is posted below:

            In order to be successful as a SFOC applicant you must demonstrate to TC and prove you have undergone ground school training that meets the Knowledge Requirements.   This along with a comprehensive SFOC application may grant the operator  a full region for up to one year in length.

            Canadian Unmanned Inc. also has expertise in writing and preparing  SFOC's in all regions of Canada.  The CUI Ground school courses are scheduled on a monthly basis in various regions of Canada and CUI specializes in onsite training as requested by the customer.  Over 250 law enforcement officers and first responders have benefitted from the CUI drone training course.

            The safety aspect of operating drones cannot be over emphasized.  Only through active socialization, awareness and education  will we be able to remove dangerous flight practices.  Near miss stories and close calls have become daily news items.  It is hoped that the drone operators make themselves more familiar with the regulations and abide through safer flying practices.
Editors note:
Sterling Cripps has been a commercial pilot for over 15 years and has been operating drones for the past 10 years.   He has served on several Transport Canada committees and working groups since 2007 relating to drone legislation and is one of Canada's leading experts in small drone regulatory issues and operations.
CUI Course registration information can be found online at the CUI website