UAVs to get new rules


Civilian Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs) have been operating in Canada in recent years conducting specialty commercial operations, such as communications relay, ice patrol, survey, crop reconnaissance, powerline patrol and wildlife monitoring.

At the present any individual or company who wants to operate a civil UAV must apply for a Transport Canada (TC) Special Flight Operating Certificate (SFOC), which includes conducting a risk complete assessment, proving insurance coverage and demonstrating to TC how you can be sure the UAV will not collide with other airspace users or people and property on the ground.

In some cases the UAV operations have resulted in restricted areas being imposed to keep the UAV separated from non-participating aircraft.

UAVs can be any size. TC defines model aircraft as being 35 kg (77.2 pounds) or less and used for recreational purposes. Any unmanned aircraft that is used for non-recreational purposes is classified as a UAV in Canada and requires a SFOC and liability insurance, no matter how small it is.

The growth in requests for SFOCs in the last few years has meant an increasing burden on both the operators and on TC to examine the proposed operation and grant the SFOCs. Both the UAV industry and TC would like to move to a different regulatory regime that is more like that for manned aircraft – a set of rules that you have to comply with to go flying.

To examine the problem of developing a set of rules for UAVs to operate to, TC has convened a working group consisting of experts from the UAV community, TC licencing, airworthiness and operating rules staff and other representatives of the aviation community.

The working group leader is TC Recreational Aviation & Special Flight Operations Inspector Karen Tarr, who has been involved in the development of the current UAV SFOC procedures.

Because more UAVs flying in Canadian airspace will have a major impact on personal aviation, COPA’s Adam Hunt is participating on the working group. COPA is the only aviation association on the working group representing other users of the airspace. This is a large group, with nearly 30 people participating, over 20 of whom are manufacturers and operators of UAVs.

The working group is tasked with coming up with recommendations to:

  • Identify new terminology and definitions essential to understanding UAV operations.
  • Make recommendations regarding a classification system for UAVs.
  • Make recommendations regarding aircraft registration and marks.
  • Make recommendations regarding maintenance requirements
  • Identify competencies (knowledge, experience, skill, medical fitness) required for pilots and system operators and recommend ways to qualify personnel to operate UAVs (licences, ratings).
  • Make recommendations regarding the nature of the airworthiness and continuing airworthiness contribution to the overall safety target for UAVs. Specifically, the applicability of fixed airworthiness standards (based on existing airworthiness standards), variable standards (operating restrictions) or a combination of both should be addressed.
  • Identify immediate needs for guidance material, policy documents, advisory circulars or Exemptions.
  • Make recommendations for a regulatory framework.
  • Create a roadmap that illustrates a long-term strategy for UAV safety oversight including the role of potential private sector/government partnerships.

The working group will meet throughout 2007 and will make recommendations on CARs for UAVs to operate in Canada. The final report of the working group is due to TC by Sept. 30, 2007. Eventually Notices of Proposed Amendments will be presented at CARAC as a result of the recommendations of this group.

The working group started off with a teleconference late in 2006 and the initial meeting for the working group was held in Ottawa from Jan. 30, to Feb 1, 2007.

During that meeting there was lots of discussion of the potential scope of UAV operations. So far there has been about 100 SFOCs issued for UAV operations in Canada. Many of these were for one-time flights, rather than on-going operations.

Most COPA members will have read about military UAV operations in the general or aviation press. The ones that most often make headlines are aircraft like the General Atomics Predator, hunting down terrorists in the Middle East or the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk spyplane doing unmanned reconnaissance missions that were once done by U-2s and SR-71s.

The Predator B is an aircraft that has a 64 foot wingspan and weighs 6,500 lbs. The Global Hawk has a gross weight of 25,600 lbs and a wingspan of 116 feet. These aircraft are the top end of the military UAV world, but many people in the civil part of the UAV industry have indicated that most of the commercial UAVs Canadians will see will be much smaller than their military cousins.

One UAV industry expert predicted that by 2017 there could be between 10,000 and 100,000 commercial UAVs flying in Canada and that 95 per cent of them would be less than 75 lbs. gross take-off weight.

Some of the commercial UAVs currently flying or being tested are smaller than a sparrow and are intended for inspecting the roofs of sports stadiums or for inspecting the inside of smelter chimneys. There are some truly fascinating things being done or coming soon in the world of UAVs!

The main concern for COPA is the rules that will govern UAVs in the future must allow this sector of aviation to grow and develop to its full potential, while ensuring that UAVs aren’t operated in a way that makes them a hazard to the other users of the airspace or results in a proliferation of restricted airspace.