The Canadian government has tightened the rules for recreational drone flyers in Canada. Drones must now be clearly marked with the owner’s name, address, and telephone number. There are additional restrictions that will make it far more difficult to fly in parks within cities.

The new rules are aimed at drones weighing more than 250 grams and up to 35 kilograms. Only recently, DJI has argued that the 250-gram weight (which has been used in the US as the cutoff weight for the lowest-risk category) does not accurately reflect a meaningful threshold for the possibility of danger and should not be used as a basis for regulations.

In Canada, the new restrictions include not flying a drone in this category:

  • If the pilot is not within 500 meters of the aircraft
  • Higher than 90 meters above the ground
  • Within nine kilometers of any aerodrome or seaplane base
  • Closer than 75 meters from people, buildings, vehicles or animals

The last one mentioned in these bullets will make it difficult to fly within city limits, except in larger parks when there are no other people around. Smaller and lighter “toy” drones are not subject to the same regulations.

Violating these rules could result in a fine of up to $3,000 CDN.

“I am taking measures now, before a drone hits an airplane and causes a catastrophic accident. That’s the kind of nightmare scenario that keeps me up at night,” said Transport Canada Minister (and former astronaut) Marc Garneau at a news conference.

An infographic outlining the new Canadian drone regulations

An infographic outlining the new Canadian drone regulations

The reasoning, he said, is an increase in the number of cases involving drones that have been reported to his department or law enforcement agencies. They have grown from 41 incidents in 2014 to 148 incidents in 2016.

“This represents an increase of more than 200 percent in 2 years,” said the minister.

When asked by reporters if the new rules were overly restrictive, he defended them as reasonable.

“When it comes to safety I don’t think that anything is overkill. I have read almost on a daily basis reports from pilots coming into airports on the flight path and reporting seeing a drone off the wing,” he said.

Transport Canada also appears to have accepted and adopted the 250-gram mark as marking a threshold.

“They pose a hazard and if they are over 250 grams they can cause serious damage including killing people,” said Garneau.

(This document argues that the 250-gram weight is based on outdated equations and that 2.2 kilograms should be the upper limit of the lowest-risk weight category.)

Previously, Transport Canada created an online tool for reporting incidents involving drones – including ones that look suspiciously like a Predator

Previously, Transport Canada created an online tool for reporting incidents involving drones – including one that looks suspiciously like a Predator

The new regulations are already causing concern among those who operate drones commercially in Canada. Some fear the new rules will prompt many recreational users to unnecessarily apply for a Special Flight Operations Certificate – and that would mean processing delays for the people who actually need them for commercial operations.

“My fear now on the commercial side is a flood of SFOCs as people now think they need one to fly,” says Mark Langille, Partner at FliteLab, a UAV sales, service and support company.

It has also been pointed out that there’s a growing mindset that drones pose a clear and present safety threat, even though there has not been a single documented collision between a consumer drone and a manned aircraft. Often, as in this case reported by TDC, what is first described as a drone collision or near-miss is later determined to be something else.

Cases like that, in conjunction with widespread and sometimes over-hyped media coverage, seem to be contributing to a crackdown on a hobby that may not be in need of further restrictions.

In fact, Minister Garneau did acknowledge the tremendous benefits drones can bring including precision agriculture, monitoring wildlife and providing first-responders with a birds-eye view, saying the intent is not to restrict drones to the point “that we hinder innovation.”

Meanwhile, the Drone Manufacturers Alliance – the group that represents the interests of 3DR, Parrot, GoPro and DJI – says in a news release the regulations “will provide only a negligible increase in safety while sharply curtailing the ability of Canadians to explore, photograph their country, and teach their children about science and technology.”
It quotes Alliance director Kara Calvert as saying: “These sudden regulations, imposed without input from Canada’s tens of thousands of responsible drone pilots, will hurt innovation and education without a corresponding improvement in safety.
“The overwhelming majority of Canadian drone pilots operate safely and responsibly, and they are the ones who will be hurt by far-reaching restrictions – not the tiny number of irresponsible operators who have already violated existing drone safety rules.”