National Buzz: Leading the UAV Curve

October 11, 2017
By Joe atherton
The UAS CE sports a building with an 8,400 square-foot hangar and more than 6,000 square feet of office space
The UAS CE sports a building with an 8,400 square-foot hangar and more than 6,000 square feet of office space Photo: UAS CE
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are a new technology niché which has given us the ability to view things from different angles and heights which even manned aircraft are unable to do.


In particular, an operator can benefit from the instant gratification of being able to fly within minutes of acquisition. This is unheard of in manned aviation, but now, through the use of UAVs we can be “airborne” in minutes.

Each country is responsible for developing and managing its own set of regulations that pertain to the aviation industry whilst agreeing to an international set of general regulations established by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). UAVs are now becoming a part of these regulations, however the level of enforcement of these regulations varies from country to country.

Canada is in the process of regulating UAVs as they become more prevalent, particularly in dull, dirty and dangerous tasks. Examples include utility companies who use UAVs to review and assess their infrastructure; farmers using UAVs to manage crop and livestock; realtors who use them to advertise their properties; the film and television industry who capture new views; and law enforcement organizations who use UAVs for search and rescue (SAR) or crime scene reconstruction and more. Needless to say, the uses for UAVs are wide and varied and continue to grow as these platforms become more prevalent.

Leading the way in regulating UAVs in Canada is Transport Canada (TC). Under the current TC regulatory scheme, there are two types of pilotless aircraft – those used for recreational purposes, which are defined as model aircraft, and include traditional modellers as well as those using “drones” or quadcopters for purely recreational reasons, and those using any such aircraft for any purpose other than recreational which are official referred to as unmanned aerial vehicles. It is important to understand which category someone falls into because the rules are different for each category.

 For those using model aircraft, no approvals are required. However, they must operate in accordance with the TC Interim Order Regarding the use of Model Aircraft. This Interim Order replaced the original model aircraft provision which was found in Section 602.45 of the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs).

The Interim Order provides definitions and describes to whom the Interim Order applies and to whom it does not apply. Finally, it provides the conditions that must be complied with by those operating model aircraft including situations such as minimum distances from aerodromes, maximum altitudes, areas where flight is prohibited and the need to put the owners contact information on the aircraft.  

 For those using UAVs, in most cases, an application for a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) must be submitted by the operator to TC in order to fly. The SFOC application must show how the UAV operator intends to operate and how they will ensure safety is maintained.

In addition to the standard SFOCs, TC is also issuing what are referred to as Compliant Operator SFOCs. These are intended for those professional UAV operators who achieve a higher level of pilot training, operate a UAV that meets a design standard (known as Compliant UAVs), and have put together an organization that complies with certain standards and requirements.

The only exception to the SFOC requirement is to operate under one of two UAV exemptions which provide relief to the SFOC requirement for certain lower-risk operations. These exemptions include numerous safety conditions which must be met in order to operate under the exemption. Details and information on the current regulatory requirements can be found on the TC website. (https://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/civilaviation/opssvs/flying-drone-safely-legally.html)

A More Regulated Landscape
In terms of  the future, on July 15, TC published its proposed new UAV rules in Canada Gazette 1. In response to the Notice of Proposed Amendment, which was issued in summer of 2015, TC has worked on a framework and is now seeking comments before this new version becomes effective on Oct. 13. The proposed rules will no longer differentiate between the uses of the aircraft (recreational or non-recreational) but instead will look at the risks presented by the operation and the aircraft.

With this change, the terms Model Aircraft and UAV will no longer be used and instead the term Unmanned Aircraft System or UAS will be used to identify all pilotless aircraft. These draft rules are meant to capture the biggest sector of the current UAS industry, those operating unmanned aircraft of 25 kgs or less and operated within Visual Line-of-Sight (VLOS).

 According to the information in the Canada Gazette, instead of the new UAS regulations being scattered throughout the existing regulations in the CARs, a new Part IX to the CARs will be developed to specifically address UAS. It is anticipated that the most significant changes in the new rules will be for those wanting to fly in complex environments which include in controlled airspace, near airports and within cities or towns.

These UAS users will need to write a knowledge test in order to get a UAS pilot permit, register and mark their UAS, and follow a specific set of rules. By following these new rules, UAS pilots will no longer be required to apply for SFOCs and their business will be able to be conducted in a more predictable way. In keeping with the approach of basing the rules on the risks posed by the intended operation, those that want to operate in lower-risk areas will not have to meet as many rules.

Once finalized these will be some of the first regulations in the world to integrate UAS into the existing airspace structure and not just accommodate them. For those UAS operations that do not fall within the proposed regulatory scheme (for example, UAS more than 25 kgs, beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) flight, etc) a process similar to the current SFOC process will be available to authorize these operations.

Marc Moffatt, director general UAS Centre of Excellence in Alma, Que. shared his perspective on the new regulations with UAV Canada.

“It’s obviously good news for the community as it will allow us to develop some training programs and allow operators to comply with these new rules and eventually drop the SFOC process,” Moffatt said. “In other words, if you comply with these rules, you can fly without SFOC and therefore shorten your service delivery cycle.”

 Until the new Part IX to CARs is issued, companies and operators will have to continue to request a SFOC through their regional office. In researching this article, it became apparent that difficulties exist across the country as the SFOC process was being applied differently throughout the various TC regions around the country.

As an example, it has been reported that it is extremely difficult to obtain an SFOC in the province of Quebec (or Quebec region) when compared to other provinces. With this said, there has been some successful efforts to level the field as TC has worked with its various regions to standardize the approach.

“The next step will be to define the Beyond Visual Line of Sight regulations. That’s where, in my opinion, where we’ll discover the true benefits of the RPAS and where a site such as the UAS Centre of Excellence can come into play,” Moffatt said. “Since our flight zones have been approved by TC, we’ve more recently managed to get approval to conduct BVLOS operations. This has been quite a development for us and quite an effort.

“We have invested two years to define our Standard Operating Procedures. Not an easy task since we needed to define with the close collaboration of TC and NAV CANADA how we would fly RPAS in BVLOS profile. We are defining the rules and procedures for controls of these systems, and in my humble opinion, we are writing Canadian aviation history.”

Moffatt was referencing a TC announcement in June, which outlined test trials of UAS technology for surveillance in Northern Canada. The Honourable Marc Garneau, minister of transport, granted the UAS Centre of Excellence approval to begin operations at their test range in Alma, in partnership with the Iqaluit-based company Arctic UAV Inc., and the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

TC will be one of the first to operate at the new test range as the department begins trials with a Sea-Hunter UAV. The trials will provide hands-on experience operating sophisticated UAVs and will help develop procedures, training, and risk assessment tools for surveillance operations in Northern Canada as TC intends to acquire a system that would use UAVs to survey ice and oil spills in the Canadian Arctic.

In anticipation of these activities, the department awarded a contract to Arctic UAV to conduct several research and development flight trials over the next three years.

The UAS CE is also determined to further the development of the centre and establish a pre-qualification and certification site. In the near future, the UAS CE will offer infrastructure and equipment required to prequalify airborne remote sensing systems, a R&D centre to develop sensors and other remote sensing software, and the tools needed to confirm system compliance to the principal standards.

“In conjunction with the prequalification site, we are seeking interested companies to establish a training academy offering training and education programs in the areas of maintenance, manufacturing, image and data analysis, embedded systems as well as pilot training,” Moffatt said. “This site establishment could represent a North America training hub.”

The UAS CE is also being considered as a possible site for TC’s Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAS acquisition and testing program, which could eventually see MALE UAS being integrated as part of the National Air Surveillance Program. The UAS CE is now also part of the latest Quebec Aerospace strategy 2016. As such, the Centre has been given the mandate to develop a UAS cluster along with a Strategic & Action Plan.

“We hope to receive final confirmation from the Quebec government that these plans have been accepted by late fall. This should gives us access to some funding to coordinate the Quebec UAS sector,” Moffatt said.

Applying the Technology
In Alberta, the Canadian Centre for Unmanned Vehicle Systems (CCUVS) is a not-for-profit company whose purpose is to facilitate sustained, profitable growth in the Canadian civil and commercial unmanned systems sector. CCUVS makes airspace available for the training and development of the UAS technology sector in both line of sight, and the soon to be developed beyond line of sight operating concepts. CCUVS also assists in the preparation of industry submissions using their knowledge and expertise to make submissions concise and complete – some 85 submissions have been submitted since 2007.

In February, the CCUVS Foremost Range was host to Ventus Geospatial, a Canadian company who used an Aeryon Skyranger small UAS and a C-Astral Bramor fixed wing platform to perform Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) flights.

Speaking about the test flights was Stephen Myshak, CEO of Ventus Geospatial, who said this “opens the door for TC to start to get data from the flights and this will lead to regulations so qualified users can start to operate in non restricted airspace to do pipeline, power line, and large area mapping in Canada.”

UAVs have a wide range of uses and an ever growing demand for operators. Sterling Cripps is a long time operator of UAVs, and is the founder and chief instructor for Canadian Unmanned Inc. (CUI).

Over the past nine years, he has successfully trained more than 2,000 UAV students, representing over 300 businesses in the commercial sector.

He has also worked closely with several police departments and provided initial UAV ground school training for three divisions of the RCMP. This is but one company making an impact in Canada’s growing UAV industry.

On the other side of the equation are companies like Aeryon Labs, headquartered in Waterloo, Ont. Aeryon is a full-service small unmanned aerial systems (UAS) provider.

In May, Aeryon Labs was part of a team which operated an Aeryon SkyRanger small UAS over Elk City, Okla., which sustained damage from an EF-2 tornado.

The team used the small UAS to collect more than one hour of high-definition video and georeferenced still imagery over the tornado damage. The real-time video feed was directly provided to Oklahoma’s regional Emergency Operations Centers via AeryonLive video and telemetry solution that streams live video, images and aircraft telemetry from the SkyRanger across a secure bonded cellular network connection.

This is a prime example of Canadian innovation and real-world use of UAVs.

Speaking about the UAV industry in Canada was David Kroetsch, chief technology officer at Aeryon Labs. “We’ve seen the industry go from nothing to embracing remote models which spawned a sort of cottage industry for UAVs,” Kroetsch said. “Since then we’ve seen more of a consolidation as regulations have evolved.

“For an OEM specifically, Canada has been pretty fantastic as we’ve largely been ahead of the curve in operating UAVs, and the export environment has been very positive to grow business internationally.”

With organizations like the UAS Centre for Excellence and CCUVS, and companies like Aeryon Labs, it is apparent that the UAV industry in Canada is strong and developing, and that export potential is growing with it.

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