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Not Just Droning On

May 7, 2015  By Fred Jones

In April, I participated in the UAV Working Group, where members of the UAV community and their Association (Unmanned Systems Canada) met with other stakeholders and Transport Canada (TC) to discuss the future of UAV operations in Canada – but with a special emphasis on Commercial Beyond Line-of-Sight (BLOS) operations for UAVs under 25 kg, referred to as Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS).

What I experienced was an emerging new industry-segment in its regulatory infancy, but very committed to developing a regulatory framework for commercial UAV operations that will both integrate with other segments of the aviation community, and provide a sustainable regulatory platform for their industry segment to grow.

On this subject, HAC’s focus has not been to obstruct the evolution of these aircraft, but to provide whatever assistance and advice we can offer – but particularly to mitigate the risk of a conflict where these aircraft will be operating side-by-side with manned helicopters.


The group has been considering a regulatory framework that will parallel the regulatory framework that is applicable to other segments of the aviation community, including pilot licensing and testing requirements, currency, and aircraft registration, insurance, airworthiness, maintenance, training standards – and yes, even Flight & Duty Times for the UAV pilot who ironically may be operating the BLOS UAV from his bedroom (Where do I sign-up?).

The group discussed a broad range of issues that will form the regulatory basis for BLOS operations, including systems for mandatory sense-and-avoid, mandatory ADS-B out, lighting that will enhance the visibility of UAVs [including strobe lighting, at HAC’s request], GPS failure, emergency procedures for “Lost Link” (Think, “I can no longer control this machine” – a feeling I often experience in manned aircraft) including a fail-safe system for “Flight Termination” that will – as a last resort – minimize the probability of severe injury to persons or damage to property on the ground.

While TC has issued roughly 3,000 SFOCs for Line-of-Sight operations – only a handful have been for BLOS operations so-far. It was clear however, that the real opportunities for commercial UAS operations exist in BLOS operations. Naturally, this is also where the greatest potential for conflict with manned helicopter operations will occur, too. The next generation of RPAS will be operating in low-level airspace and probably doing aerial work operations (pipeline patrol, power line patrol, survey work, aerial photography).

TC has articulated a pretty aggressive timetable for the UAV regulations, and they have said that they should be in a position to table the regulations for UAVs under 25kg for Line-of-sight operations this fall. The BLOS regulations for this size of aircraft are being developed in-part to give the UAV designers an opportunity to develop and test UAV products that are in keeping with new regulatory requirements.

While TC has indicated that they are prepared to discuss the future of RPAS even further (including UAVs in excess of 25 kg and in IFR operations), it was apparent to me that the UAV community didn’t want to bite off more than they were prepared to chew right now, and they wanted an opportunity to adapt to the first-wave of opportunities.

Helicopter operators know that commercially operated Line-of-Sight UAVs are already here, but you should also know that commercially operated Beyond-Line-of-Sight RPAS are almost here. Admittedly, they have a few technical and regulatory kinks to work out, but they are almost ready-for-prime-time. Their commercial applications are limited only by the imagination of their operators. More than one UAV operator has commented to me that their operations will complement many conventional manned operations, and that conventional helicopter oper-ators are uniquely positioned to take advantage of the com-mercial opportunities that they will present. The UAV com-munity likes to say that they are most suited to operations that are “dull, dirty or dangerous,” but their potential is more significant if they continue to evolve along their current trajectory of engagement with other aviation stakeholders and the regulator toward an operational and regulatory environment that will ensure they are safely integrated with other users of Canada’s airspace.

Fred Jones is the president/CEO of the Helicopter Association of Canada and a regular contributor to Helicopters magazine.

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