Canada Further Simplifies Approval Process

Major changes are coming for UAS operations in Canada later this month.  Canada has a well-developed system of commercial UAS operations that focuses primarily on authorization for a specific mission or set of missions.  Currently, in order to obtain the necessary Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC), applicants are required to meet the requirements set out in the applicable 60 page Transport Canada Staff Instruction and prepare a detailed submission and supporting documentation.  While a broader authority to operate in Canada is a theoretical possibility, it is difficult to get, and requires the operator to establish a history of safe operations through use of the mission-by-mission SFOC process.

While this system worked well initially, it has been a victim of its own success.  The number of SFOC requests increased over 500% from 2011 to 2013, and SFOC requests this year have dwarfed that level.  As a result, there have been reports of substantial delays at some of the regional Transport Canada offices tasked with reviewing the requests.

Faced with this unsustainable trajectory, Canada has decided to overhaul its UAS rules.  While details are not yet available, the indications are that Canada will create new rules that apply to very light weight UAVs. Initial reports  are that for UAVs under 2 kg (approximately 4.4 pounds), there will be little, if any, direct regulations.  In addition, Transport Canada has announced that it will be somewhat easier to obtain authorization for commercial work involving UAVs weighing between 2 kg and 25 kg.  It appears, however, that a full SFOC will still be needed for UAVs weighing over that amount.

The announcement of these updated rules is part of a new “carrot and stick” approach by Transport Canada.  On the “carrot” side, they are relaxing restrictions on operations and have launched a new educational program to improve safety.  On the “stick” side, they are emphasizing that any failure to follow the rules will not be tolerated and will subject violators to substantial penalties:

  1. If a UAV is operated without a Special Flight Operations Certificate and should be, Transport Canada can issue a fine of up to $5,000 for an individual and $25,000 for a company
  2. If an operator does not follow the requirements of their Special Flight Operations Certificate, Transport Canada can issue fines of up to $3,000 for an individual and $15,000 for a business.

It will be interesting to see whether the FAA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for small UAS operations will adopt this growing trend, or will follow a more traditional one-size-fits-all approach.  Plane-ly Spoken hopes for the former, but will not be surprised if it is the latter.

(Originally posted November 17, 2014)

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