Education, not Regulation

Hey everyone.  This post is going to be a little different in nature.  As you may have heard, Canada has put in “new” regulations covering recreational drone flying.  I say “new” in quotations because many of these regulations were already listed on the Transport Canada website as guidelines so we’ve been operating under them for quite some time anyway.

Check out the CBC article here:

I think most people fall into one of four camps when it comes to drones.

  1. The irresponsible drone owner who says “I’ll fly wherever and whenever I want if it generates more Likes on Facebook or views on my YouTube channel.”  No matter what regulations you put in place, these people will continue to exist and, unfortunately, they are the ones who become the public face of the hobby.
  2. The person who doesn’t own a drone but finds them interesting and wants to learn more.  This is the person who sees you flying and comes up to talk in a reasonable manner and wants to engage you in polite conversation.  We like these people a lot.  If you don’t own a drone, be this person.
  3. The responsible drone owner.  The person who does not want to be “that guy”.  This is the camp where I live.  This person strives to achieve the perfect balance between exercising his/her rights while still maintaining his/her responsibilities.  The vast majority of drone owners fall into this camp.
  4. The irrational non-drone owner who wants them banned.  This is the guy you see posting comments on every YouTube video featuring a drone explaining how he’ll shoot it out of the sky if it comes within five miles of him.  (Sorry, but it’s usually a guy.)  I think some of these people could move into “Camp 2” with more education but a lot of them are lost causes.

If you’ve read this far, I encourage you to check out Rick from Drone Valley.  He does a great synopsis of these “new” rules in his video.  It’s 20+ minutes long, but it should give everyone a good idea as to what the rules are and why some of them are not very reasonable.

Now, I’d like to provide my personal thoughts on the regulations.  I’ve already sent a “Reader’s Digest version” of these thoughts to both my Member of Parliament as well as Marc Garneau directly.

Let’s start with the regulations I think are reasonable and I don’t have an issue with.

Do not fly your drone

  • …higher than 90m above the ground.  While I would have preferred to see this limit set to 120m so we have consistency between Transport Canada and the FAA in the US, 90m is a reasonable height for most purposes.  When drones first became popular, it was a novelty to see the landscape from the air.  Now?  Not so much.  There is far more interesting footage to be captured by flying lower.
  • …within controlled or restricted airspace.  Makes sense and hard to argue against that one.
  • …within 9km of a forest fire.  …where you could interfere with police or first responders.  I lump these two together because they are essentially the same thing.  Makes perfect sense.  Emergency scenes are constantly changing and evolving and John Q. Public should just stay out of the way as much as possible, whether they have a drone or not.  As a former firefighter, I heartily endorse this regulation.
  • …at night or in clouds.  Clouds I understand.  Heck, my drone is an expensive piece of electronics so I am not flying it where there is a risk of condensation or moisture getting into it.  At night?  I think the visual line of sight (VLOS) regulation (below) could have covered night flights just fine.  If you can’t see it then there is a problem.  If you can see it, I don’t see a problem flying at night.
  • …if you can’t keep it in sight at all times.  YouTube is full of people who love taking out their drones and doing range tests, often flying it several kilometers away.  I consider this risky behavior and not worth it.  The small forward-facing view from the camera does not provide enough visual context for safe flying.  As a drone operator, you need to be aware of the surroundings you are flying in and you need to be able to adapt and react quickly.  If you can’t see your drone, you can’t do that.
  • …if you are not within 500m of your drone.  I have come close to reaching this limit and it seems reasonable to me.  Beyond that I think most people would be hard pressed to say they actually have a VLOS on their drone.  Besides, if something goes wrong, how far do you want to have to walk to retrieve the pieces of your crashed bird anyway? 🙂
  • …if your name, address, and phone number are not clearly marked on your drone.  I know this one freaks out a lot of privacy advocates.  It’s amazing how much the world has changed.  It was not long ago that pretty much everyone had their name, address, and phone number published in books which were accessible on every street corner where a pay phone was located.  I realize everyone has different circumstances and for some people this regulation can be a HUGE issue.  As I said, currently for me it isn’t a big deal and if it helps someone return my drone to me in the unlikely event of a flyaway then that’s a good thing.  I do like the USA’s approach with having the FAA act as a buffer between the public and the drone owner so that may come later this year when Transport Canada rolls out their promised more restrictive regulations.

Now, let’s get to the real meat.  Let’s talk about the parts of the regulations I do have issues with and how Transport Canada’s approach really rubs me the wrong way.

Do not fly your drone

  • …closer than 75m from buildings, vehicles, vessels, animals, people/crowds, etc.  In theory this sounds good, but it is far too broad.  I was at our local off leash area.  There was no one else around so I put the drone up to get some footage of Tucker playing.  I discovered he enjoys chasing the drone so I flew it around the park and he got a good run in.  Consider it a high-tech equivalent of playing fetch with a ball.  This act is now illegal under the regulation as written.If you have seen my YouTube channel, you know I enjoy capturing footage of abandoned/historical buildings and places.  This regulation now makes me an outlaw in many cases.  Heck, I am not even allowed to fly my drone in my own yard without running the risk of a $3000 fine.  The idea behind the regulation is a good one but there needs to be more put in place to allow for responsible and common sense application of it.
  • …closer than 9km from the centre of an aerodrome (any airport, heliport, seaplane base, or anywhere that aircraft takeoff and land)  Again, I understand the intent and the reason for this regulation but the actual language behind this is troubling.  Two problems I have with it:
    • It treats every airport the same, whether it is Calgary International or some rural grass airstrip that might see one or two planes a week.  Not all airports are created equal, so why is the regulation written as if they are?
    • It does not take into account altitude.  If I am 7 or 8 km outside an airport and flying my drone at 15m above the ground, do you really think I am putting any aircraft at risk?  If there is a plane flying that low that far away from the airport, my little drone is the least of our problems.  Sure, there could be a crop duster working or a plane in distress, but that can happen anywhere at any time and that is why the VLOS regulations are in place.

Now, let’s put the regulations aside and talk about how Transport Canada is handling drones.  The two words that come to mind?  Fear mongering.  Let’s go back to the CBC article I linked to above and look at some area of concern.

“…Transport Canada has noticed a large increase in the number of reported safety incidents involving drones in the last three years: 41 in 2014, 85 in 2015 and 148 last year.”

First, these are “reported” safety incidents which does not necessarily equate to actual safety incidents.  There have been many reports of “near miss” drone incidents where the drone actually turned out to be a shopping bag, a bird, or something else entirely.  Also, this statement does not take into account the ever-increasing number of drones in the air.  Of course there are more reported incidents in 2016 than in 2014.  Here’s a news flash, I’m sure there were more traffic accidents reported in Calgary in 2016 than there were in 1970 too.  Considering the rate at which drone ownership has taken off over the last couple of years, a 3.6x increase in the number of reported incidents is really a win, not a cause for concern.

“When it comes to safety, I don’t think anything is overkill,” said Garneau in response to a reporter’s question.

Wow.  Really?  2172 people died in Canada in motor vehicle accidents in 2013.  Zero people have been killed by drones.  I guess we better ban cars if there is no such thing as overkill.  His statement is just ridiculous and I can’t believe an elected official would utter such a thing in public.


“I have read almost on a daily basis reports from pilots coming into airports, on the flight path, and reporting seeing a drone off the wing.”

OK, let’s assume this is the truth.  Let’s work on that issue and do what we can to get rid of drones on flight paths and not just apply a blanket 9km radius around every airport.  Let’s make the regulations realistic and appropriate for the problem you’re trying to solve and then strictly enforce them.  Banning someone from flying a drone 6km away from Vauxhall Airport doesn’t do much to help.

“Transport Canada says anyone who sees someone flying a drone illegally should call 911.”

This is absurd and a waste of resources.  911 operators already deal with way too many bogus calls every day that interfere with people who have genuine emergencies.  Remember the “Camp 4” people I mentioned back at the beginning of this article?  Can’t you just see them peering out their windows waiting for a drone to fly within 75m of their house so they can call the cops?

Beyond the waste of resources, let’s think about this.  As a drone operator, I have access to all sorts of telemetry data that tells me how high my drone is, how far away it is, etc.  Who is in a better position to judge whether or not my flight is legal, me or someone without access to this data?  If I grab a random selection of people off the street and ask them to tell me whether or not my drone is above or below 90m, how many will get it right?  If I point to an object in the distance and ask them whether it is closer or further than 500m, will they know?

The “Camp 4” people think every drone is violating their privacy.  Please.  If you are concerned about privacy, you have much more to fear from the guy 1km away with a telephoto lens than you do someone operating a drone.  If I really wanted to peek into your private life, you can bet I’m not going to do it with a buzzing drone that needs to be right outside your window to see anything with its wide-angle lens.

Transport Canada needs to be combating the fear and doing more to educate the public about drones.  Instead, they seem to be playing up the dangers in an effort to garner more votes.  It’s easy to pander to the crowd who is ignorant of the technology.  It takes real leadership to stand up and say “Yes, there needs to be a framework around the operation of drones but let’s make one that doesn’t turn law-abiding citizen hobbyists into criminals.”

We know “an overhaul” of these regulations is coming in June.  What I worry is that these regulations will not address the issues with the current rules but instead will become even more restrictive.  I’m not against regulation.  I’d like to see age limits placed on drone operators.  I’d even be willing to register myself and my drone with Transport Canada; heck, I’ve already registered with the FAA even though I don’t have any trips to the USA on the books right now.  Perhaps even some form of mandatory training through an online course?  I would love to be able to have a “Camp 4” person come up to me in a park and be able to pull out my Transport Canada Certified Drone Operator certificate and say “Bugger off.”  However, based on the fear mongering we have seen from Transport Canada I don’t think things will get any better anytime soon.

Sign the petition here.

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2 Responses to Education, not Regulation

  1. breezinga says:

    Great post. Well thought out. I agree with you.


  2. Rick says:

    Maybe we should get together and pay your expenses to Ottawa so you can meet face to face with Garneau and tell it to him like it is. They are so messed up. They don’t have a clue what the new regulations are going to do to model aviation and hobbyist.


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