Drone companies fighting for regulation changes | The Chronicle Herald
Fed up with what they see as discrimination against their industry, companies that use drones in Canada are fighting to be allowed to fly their unmanned aircraft beyond the operator’s visual line of sight.
At stake are millions of dollars in potential revenues for these operators — and the safety of Canada’s air space.
Drone operators currently have to be able to see their unmanned aircraft at all times when they are in flight. Many in the industry are claiming that this works against them and is an unreasonable demand, preventing drones from being used to their full potential to examine oil pipelines for leakages, coastlines for erosion and electrical transmission corridors.
Under the existing rules, Transport Canada reviews each application by a drone operator to fly beyond visual line of sight on a case-by-case basis. It’s a time-consuming process. Beechville-based drone surveillance and mapping company AeroVision Canada has gone through it several times and has so far never been granted the elusive permit.
“We’re being discriminated against because of the type of aircraft we fly,” Trevor Bergmann, AeroVision Canada’s chief executive officer, said in an interview Tuesday. “There’s a huge economic deterrence to comply with what they pull out . . . (and) . . . They keep moving the goal post.”
But Transport Canada officials say they are only working to ensure the safety of Canada’s airspace.
“To obtain a special flight operations certificate to carry out unmanned aerial vehicle activities beyond visual line of sight, an operator would have to demonstrate their ability to mitigate the heightened risk to people on the ground and to other aircraft,” Daniel Savoie, a Transport Canada spokesman, said in an interview.
“Transport Canada considers many factors when authorizing beyond-visual-line-of-sight operations, including collision risk, the applicant’s proposed means to mitigate that risk, specific weather requirements, the accuracy of the navigation system, etc.,” he said.
But drone operators counter that the process is ambiguous, complicated and costly. Bergmann has described it as riddled with “an obscene amount of rules and regulations.”
And so several companies got together two weeks ago to form a working group to convince Transport Canada, Nav Canada, and the nation’s Members of Parliament that there needs to be a better process put in place.
“The only thing we can do is lobby hard and get more people higher up on board,” said Bergmann. “It might take a long time but we’ve got to do something . . . The rest of the world is passing Canada’s approval statistics (for beyond-visual-line-of-sight permit approvals).”
The drone industry group working on getting this new, beyond-visual-line-of-sight approval process is being headed by Ottawa-based ING Robotic Aviation.
Tuesday evening, the AeroVision exec was slated to meet with Halifax West MP Geoff Regan, who is currently speaker of the House of Commons, to discuss the issue. The drone industry’s working group wants Ottawa to push for a clearer process for these approvals.
“Publish an actual process, one that is realistic and not tainted by negative perceptions,” said Bergmann.
While it’s lobbying Members of Parliament, the working group is also taking a closer look at technology that can be installed on drones to make them more demonstrably safe to fly beyond the operator’s visual range.
Enter the ADS-B module.
That tiny bit of computer hardware, which is about the size of a matchbook and has a couple of antennae sticking out, is surveillance technology. In nutshell, it would let other aircraft — including commercial jets — know exactly where drones are by using satellite navigation and periodically broadcasting that location.
Drone operators in the working group are thinking of installing these tracking devices, which only cost about $175, on their unmanned aircraft to give Transport Canada added reassurance that their drones are operating safely.
“It’s an aircraft positioning system,” said Bergmann. “Another aircraft would be able to see an unmanned aerial vehicle within, say, 100 miles.”