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In Canada, drones are used for a variety of purposes including aerial photography, search and rescue missions, environmental monitoring, and hazardous material detection.

The drone industry is booming.

From a global perspective, Canada has emerged as one of the leaders in developing this technology. The Canadian drone ecosystem covers everything from manufacturing to research and development with companies such as Aeryon Labs, Skyward, and Walkera all headquartered here in Canada. Drones can be used to create 3D maps of large-scale construction projects or provide emergency response during natural disasters such as the fire at Fort McMurray in 2016.

As of recently, Canada is home to more than 337,468 drones. Of course, this number only increases. According to estimates, the majority of drones is used for recreational purposes (around 74%). On the other hand, people use 26% of drones in Canada non-recreationally (military and commercially). The drones’ popularity doesn’t stop here. In fact, by 2070 the Canadian commercial market is projected to increase by more than 17%.

OTTAWA — The RCMP has assembled a fleet of more than 200 flying drones — eyes in the sky that officers use for everything from international border investigations to protecting VIP visitors, newly disclosed records show.

The compact airborne devices are equipped with tools including video cameras and thermal-image detectors, and the Mounties are looking into more advanced applications that can help generate three-dimensional pictures.

An RCMP privacy assessment of the budding technology says the force is committed to protecting any personal information the drones collect and that officers strive to comply with federal laws.

Drones are a new generation of aircraft in a growing part of the aviation industry.

As drones become more commonplace, it has become clear they are a game-changing technology not only within the transportation network but for society at large. Drones are modernizing the way industries work, improving people’s lives, and providing public benefits to communities. Most recently, drones have been used to conduct deliveries to remote communities and have helped respond to COVID-19.

Our vision is for drone operations to be safely and securely integrated into Canadian skies as part of a modern national civil aviation system. Since 2015, we have been working towards this vision by collaborating with industry and other partners on Research & Development (R&D) activities, pilot projects to test technologies, and developing regulations and standards to ensure drones are used safely.

Through this work, we identified challenges and opportunities that will inform five key priorities:

Supporting Innovation Through Safety Regulations

Our top priority is developing regulations for lower-risk Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS) operations in rural and remote areas. We will also be conducting technology R&D, testing, and authorizing pilot projects that will inform our policies and rules for medium-risk drone operations.

Managing Drone Traffic

Establishing a drone traffic management system in Canada is a long-term effort. Building on the first phase of traffic management trials launched in 2020, in the medium-term we will launch additional operational trials. This includes exploring options to remotely identify drones to ensure accountability of drone operators.

Understanding and Addressing Drone Security Risks

We are at the early stages of collectively understanding the security threats and risks posed by drones at airports and other critical infrastructure. Our activities will first focus on the aviation sector and include:

  • collaborating with stakeholders to clarify security responsibilities
  • exploring counter-drone technologies to effectively address unauthorized drone incursions at airports
  • introducing security regulations and standards to detect and remove drones

Supporting Economic Growth

Unlocking the economic potential of the drone sector depends on continued rapid progress in technology development and testing. We will continue to pursue partnerships to advance drone R&D both in Canada and globally, and will prioritize those projects relevant to the Canadian environment. Our activities include:

  • developing strategies to enable cutting-edge drone technologies prepare for international markets
  • working with stakeholders to develop an economic strategy to modernize the current framework, including air carrier licensing rules
  • supporting the growth of the drone sector in Canada

Increasing Public Trust in Drones

Building public trust in drone technology is essential to success. This will involve:

  • increasing our own understanding of public perception and acceptance of drones
  • continuing to communicate with the public and encouraging engagement by Indigenous communities
  • work with different levels of government to plan for urban operations
  • expand partnerships with the law enforcement

Identification and Tracking

Despite the new Part IX of the Canadian Aviation Regulations and drone safety campaigns by Transport Canada, unauthorized flights over crowds and interference with manned aircraft operations by rogue drone operators persist in Canada. According to Transport Canada, the number of reported incidents in Canada more than tripled from 2014 to 2017. There have been at least two incidents where it is believed that a drone struck an aircraft and the number of reported drone incidents has risen since January 1, 2019. This problem is not uniquely Canadian – enforcing regulations continues to be a challenge for transportation departments and law enforcement around the world . Visit dedrone for more information on reported incidents worldwide.

Even though many contend that reports of drone sightings and incidents are over-inflated or erroneously made, most agree that the challenges posed by the near anonymity with which a drone can be operated (and potentially cause havoc) must be addressed. A solution to promote the safety of all aviation operations gaining the attention of regulators is the remote identification and tracking of drones. Though “remote ID” capability is not yet legally required in Canada, we expect to see it on the horizon soon.

What is remote identification and tracking?

Remote identification for a drone is the equivalent of a license plate for a car – it provides, by electronic transmission, identifying information from the drone during flight to receiving parties (either on the ground or in the air). Tracking is the process of following the dynamic location of a drone over time. Remote identification and tracking capabilities could provide aviation administrators such as Transport Canada, the FAA, air navigation service providers and/or law enforcement with real-time information about a drone and its pilot (including location, altitude, speed, direction, serial number, registration details and location of the pilot). Although there are still many issues that remain unresolved, including privacy concerns and integrating certain capabilities into drone hardware, remote identification and tracking are promising options to monitor drones in-flight, increase safety, accountability and the ability to enforce the regulations.

Regulatory steps towards remote identification and tracking of drones

Many have called for the remote identification and tracking capabilities of drones, including DJI, one of the leading manufacturers of drones (for more information on DJI’s white paper, Elevating Safety, click here). Although the U.S. and Canada currently require operators to register their drones, neither country has enacted regulations regarding remote identification and tracking (for more information on registering your drone, click here for the U.S. and here for Canada).

i) US

In 2016, the U.S. Congress directed the FAA to issue regulations regarding tracking and identifying drones and their operators during flight by July 2018. Despite Congress’ direction, the FAA has delayed the plans to propose rules regarding the remote identification of drones until December 20, 2019. While the FAA has stated that the rules are well underway, a July 2, 2019 letter from top House Republicans and Democrats that oversee aviation issues to the FAA noted that after the proposed regulations are published, it will likely take up to two or more years to be finalized (for more information, click here).

ii) Canada

In Canada, Transport Canada has not yet commented on whether it will mandate requirements for remote identification similar to the FAA in the near future. However, Transport Canada partnered with a number of research centres to promote research and development of detect and avoid systems, command and control link robustness, and drone detection. Such research is intended to help inform Canada’s regulatory framework for drones as it continues to develop.

In our view, remote identification requirements will be a necessary part of the regulatory framework for full integration of drone operations within airspace. We expect that this will become law before or when beyond visual line of sight regulations come into force in Canada (which are not expected for another few years).

Privacy concerns raised by remote identification and tracking

Privacy concerns will likely remain at the forefront of any regulatory discussion relating to remote identification. Based on the UAS Identification and Tracking (UAS ID) Aviation Rulemaking Committee’s report, the U.S. currently envisions that personally identifiable information will be limited to public safety officials and airspace management officials. However, companies such as Alphabet’s Wing, Kittyhawk and Airmap have suggested instead that an open source program to allow third parties to identify drones near them in real time using a smartphone app may be the way forward. 

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