Justin Miller, Technical Team Lead, Flight Operations, RPAS Task Force, Transport Canada
Remotely piloted aircraft ( RPA ), otherwise known as drones, have become increasingly popular over the last several years. Advances in technology have made aircraft like these the perfect tool for conducting inspections, taking photographs, and responding to emergencies, but like any change to a system the introduction of remotely piloted aircraft systems ( RPAS ) to the National Civil Air Transportation System ( NCATS ) has created new hazards.
To mitigate the hazards associated with the growing number of RPAS operations, Transport Canada developed Part IX of the Canadian Aviation Regulations ( CARS ), which governs the use of small RPAS less than 25 kilograms ( kg ) and operated within visual line of sight. The new regulations came into force on June 1, 2019 and created requirements for RPAS operators, including registration (all small RPAs [250 g –25 kg ] are required to be registered and marked), pilot certification (all small RPAS pilots are required to write an exam and obtain an operating certificate), and two operating environments, basic and advanced. RPAs less than 250 g do not require registration or a pilot certificate, but they must fly in a way that does not pose a risk to aviation or people on the ground. One fundamental change from other parts of the CARS is the elimination of the distinction between commercial and recreational users—the new drone rules apply to every RPAS pilot regardless of the purpose of their mission.
As pilots, it’s our job to manage risk. Remotely piloted aircraft are a new entrant into the National Civil Air Transportation System ( NCATS ) and have created a new risk: collisions between drones and other aircraft. It’s the responsibility of RPAS pilots to remain clear of areas in which traditional aircraft are operated, but pilots of traditional aircraft should understand the operating environment that Part IX of the CARS creates for drone operators so they can plan their flights in a way that further reduces the risks.
Here is a simplified version of the two operating environments:
|Basic environment||Advanced environment|
*The RPAS must meet the appropriate safety assurance profile and the pilot must have permission from NAV CANADA.
**Advanced operators flying at or near airports and heliports must follow the procedure established for drone operations.
|Altitude||under 400 feet ( ft ) AGL||as approved by air traffic control (if within controlled airspace; otherwise, under 400 ft AGL )|
|Airspace||outside of controlled airspace||within controlled airspace*Note: The RPAS must meet the appropriate safety assurance profile and the pilot must have permission from NAV CANADA. End note|
|Proximity to people||more than 30 m away||more than 5 m away*Note: The RPAS must meet the appropriate safety assurance profile and the pilot must have permission from NAV CANADA. End note|
|Over people||no||yes*Note: The RPAS must meet the appropriate safety assurance profile and the pilot must have permission from NAV CANADA. End note|
|Proximity to airports||more than 3 NM||at or near airports**Note: Advanced operators flying at or near airports and heliports must follow the procedure established for drone operations. End note|
|Proximity to heliports||more than 1 NM||at or near heliports**Note: Advanced operators flying at or near airports and heliports must follow the procedure established for drone operations. End note|
|Proximity to uncertified aerodromes||at or near uncertified aerodromes||at or near uncertified aerodromes|
|Night operations||with appropriate lighting||with appropriate lighting|
It’s the responsibility of all RPAS pilots, regardless of the operating environment they’re in, to keep their drone in control and in sight so that when another aircraft is detected, they’ll be able to take immediate action to give way. Avoiding a collision is a shared responsibility of all pilots. To further minimize the risk of a collision, pilots of traditional aircraft should avoid flights below 400 ft AGL in uncontrolled airspace and take additional care to fly standard circuits at uncertified aerodromes because that’s where other airspace users are going to expect aircraft to be.
The full integration of visual line of sight drone operations will take some time. There is lots of learning for everyone to do, but this is just the beginning; Transport Canada’s RPAS Task Force has been conducting trials with companies across Canada to test beyond visual line of sight ( BVLOS ) operations with the objective of approving some BVLOS in low-risk environments in the near future.
For more information on drones and drone safety see the Transport Canada drone safety.