Transport Canada’s future drone regulations will vary based on the risks of operating in a given location and will not distinguish between recreational and commercial operators, according to the agency’s proposal set to go into effect this year.
The agency, in its May 2015 Notice of Proposed Amendment (NPA), said that a rapid increase in applications for Special Flight Operation Certificates (SFOCs)—granted to commercial unmanned aircraft operators on a case-by-case basis—is one of several reasons it decided to revise the existing regulations. “The growth of the UAV industry has resulted in growing numbers of SFOC applications to Transport Canada," said the NPA. “In 2014, the department issued 1,672 SFOCs for UAVs, whereas it issued 945 SFOCs in 2013 and 345 SFOCs in 2012; this represents an overall increase of 485% over two years.” (Other reasons included promoting safety without constraining innovation and being on par with rules proposed by other countries, such as the U.S.)
The new rules would retain the SFOC process for operators of drones weighing more than 25 kg. But operators of drones weighing fewer than 25 kg would be exempt from the SFOC process, potentially easing the agency’s workload and reducing the delay for applicants.
From the applicant’s perspective, another notable change is that the new rules would depend on where drones are operating rather than whether they are commercial. For example, stricter flight training qualifications and operating rules would be required to fly drones near aerodromes and major cities where they present great risk. Under such a system, even hobbyists might be classified according to the NPA as "Small UAVs (Complex Operations)" if they operate within 5 nm of "cities, towns or villages." In that case, they also would have to obtain a pilot permit along with meeting other requirements.
How similar regulations would work in other countries remains to be seen. The U.S. still requires Section 333 exemptions for commercial operators when, hypothetically, a pilot wouldn’t care whether the drone crashing through his windshield is being operated for profit. It stands to reason that Canada’s proposed rules might benefit U.S. regulators (and aviators) as well. However, according to Martin Sheehan, a commercial litigation partner with Montreal-based Fasken Martineau, there is “no comparison” between the two airspace systems. Sheehan said that while there arguably are only four major aerospace hubs in Canada—Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver—there are far more in the U.S., where there is a greater population density in general.