Canada Giveth and Canada Taketh Away

On December 3rd, we reported on a major change affecting UAS operators in Canada.  Transport Canada granted two blanket exemptions to all Canadian citizens authorizing commercial UAS operation without requiring a Special Flight Operations Certificate.

The first exemption was for UAS weighing under 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds), and contained 37 conditions that had to be followed.  The second exemption  covers UAS weighing between 2.1 kilograms and 25 kilograms (55 pounds), and contained 58 conditions that had to be complied with.  There was a great deal of excitement when these exemptions were announced, with many proclaiming that Canada was open for business, and that Canada now had one of the most business-friendly UAS systems in the world.

Well, all is not what it appeared at first glance, and one of the “strings” attached to these exemptions has proven to be an anchor.  Both exemptions contain the following condition:

  1. The pilot operating under this exemption shall only operate a UAV at least five (5) nautical miles away from a built-up area.

Upon first reading, this does not seem like a particularly onerous restriction.  There are lots of potential UAS uses that are outside the center of a big city, right?  Well, Transport Canada has released an advisory circular defining the term “built-up area” for the first time.  According to Transport Canada, in interpreting this restriction, it must be noted that:

UAVs operated under these exemptions are not required to meet any technical airworthiness standards meaning that there is no assurance of the airworthiness or capabilities of the UAV system.  This increases the risks to persons and property on the ground, therefore, UAVs must not be operated near populated areas.  Built-up areas are considered areas with groups of buildings or dwellings including anything from small hamlets to major cities.  Anything larger than a farmstead should be considered a built up area.

Remember, this is not a restriction on flying over anything larger than a farmstead; it prohibits a UAS from approaching closer than 5 miles to anything larger than a farmstead.  This restriction obviously carves out an enormous area where the exemptions do not apply, including virtually all of the parts of Canada where commerce is occurring.

As a result, while these exemptions look good on paper, in the real world, the vast majority of commercial UAS operators are still going to have to fly under the old Special Flight Operations Certificate system, with its requirements for government review and approval.  So, for those of you in America waiting for your Section 333 Exemptions, it appears the grass is not always greener on the other side of the border, particularly in winter.

(Originally posted January 16, 2015)

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