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“The second you leave the ground with your UAV you are a pilot in the eyes of Transport Canada, and you will be held to that standard.”
With that statement, Waterloo Wellington Flight Centre’s Brett Danks commanded the attention of a roomful of would-be commercial drone operators attending the International UAV Show, held Dec. 6 to 7 in Toronto.
Danks, a flight instructor who teaches WWFC’s UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) pilot training course, delivered some useful tips to those who are considering flying a drone for business purposes.
“First, decide on your needs prior to choosing a drone,” he advised. “Start with the payload–what do you need on the UAV to accomplish your mission? Fixed-wing drones are good for agricultural surveying while helicopters are good for flying heavy cameras.”
He added that UAV pilots must thoroughly understand Canadian airspace classifications and the definition of an aerodrome, which includes not just airports but also hospital helipads, or any location where an aircraft may take off or land.
Under today’s regulations–which are now being revised by the regulator–drone operators must apply to Transport Canada to obtain a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) to operate their UAV.
“You need to know what [category of] SFOC to apply for–go for a complex SFOC if you want a blanket approval,” said Danks, who added that Transport Canada requires information about personnel who will be operating the UAV, along with insurance, mission and site survey, maintenance and emergency plan details.
“You need to know who to call and how to reach them if your drone isn’t responding and heads toward an airport, for example.”
Currently, Canadian commercial UAV operators may submit an application in one of three SFOC categories: compliant operator, restricted operator-complex or restricted operator-simplified.
Compliant operators are those who demonstrate that they have qualified personnel operating an approved UAV within visual-line-of-sight (VLOS) conditions. This category enjoys greater flexibility and a longer SFOC validity period, but eligibility and documentation requirements are stringent.
The remaining two categories of restricted operator SFOCs include complex and simplified.
Complex SFOCs are issued for special purpose applications, including beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) operations and those operating in Class F restricted airspace for testing and development purposes. Simplified certificates cover operators of small UAVs used for VLOS pilot training or other aerial work only in uncontrolled airspace, under a set of tighter operating restrictions.
“If they approve [an SFOC application], you are legally bound by what you wrote in that application,” noted Danks.
One key consideration during the application process is documented drone maintenance. “Maintenance is often overlooked. You need to make sure it’s ready to fly; have a maintenance checklist and log,” he added. “Ultimately, they [Transport Canada] want to see you have done your due diligence.”
Drone insurance is a must. At a minimum, operators must carry $100,000 in liability insurance, although Danks said more may be advisable based on the scope of an operation. “Typical general commercial insurance usually excludes UAVs. You need to get an aviation policy.”
Although there is currently no legal requirement for formalized UAV pilot training, Danks noted that many insurance companies will make training a prerequisite to issuing a policy.
WWFC’s course, for example, is held over a weekend and includes 20 hours of professional instruction covering restricted radio licensing, commercial UAV operations, air law, navigation, human factors, meteorology and aeronautics, as well as UAV maintenance and care.
In addition to a varied speaker lineup, the inaugural International UAV Show included 25 exhibitor booths featuring drone manufacturers and related products and services, as well as industry associations and educational institutions. Six hundred attendees visited the two-day show.