Drones in the 21st century

  • December 07, 2015
  • Prithviraj Sharma

Unmanned aerial vehicles, popularly known as UAVs, drones or remotely piloted aerial vehicles, will enjoy significant growth in the 21st century. Canada regulates the use of UAVs through the Canadian Aviation Regulations under the Aeronautics Act. While Canada has been authorizing the use of commercial drones since 1996, more recently a market that is specifically focused on the private use of drones for commercial and recreational purposes has evolved. Hobbyists are constantly imagining new ways to enjoy this new technology. Still in its infancy, the commercial drone market has a significant growth potential, including in the following areas:

  • atmospheric research (including weather and atmospheric gas sampling);
  • scientific research;
  • oceanographic research;
  • geophysical research;
  • mineral exploration;
  • imaging spectrometry;
  • telecommunications relay platform;
  • police surveillance;
  • border patrol and reconnaissance;
  • survey and inspection of remote power lines and pipelines;
  • traffic and accident surveillance;
  • emergency and disaster monitoring;
  • cartography and mapping;
  • search, rescue and recovery;
  • agricultural spraying;
  • aerial photography;
  • promotion and advertising;
  • weather and pollution reconnaissance;
  • flight research;
  • fire fighting monitoring and managementFootnote1

However, given the fact that through such technology, people could be monitored, it is imperative that it be regulated in a manner upholding values of privacy, freedom and democracy. Under Article 8 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation (also known as Chicago Convention), which is the organic constitution of an international organization, and the source of major principles of air law, it is forbidden to operate pilotless aircraft in the territory of a contracting state without special authorization. They should also be flown in a way so that they do not create a safety hazard for civil aircraft.Footnote2 Industry experts believe that the use of satellite-based technology along with the establishment of prohibited locational zones above a certain altitude and near airports could contribute towards the safe and efficient use of drones.Footnote3

Transport Canada categorically asks users to not fly such unmanned aircraft over private property, nor to take photos or videos without permission. Operators are also not supposed to fly closer than 150 metres from people; within nine kilometres of any airport; or higher than 90 metres above the ground.
Depending on the reason you wish to fly such an aircraft, you may or may not require permission. You may have to apply for a Special Operations Certificate or may be asked to meet the exemption requirements. The process takes about twenty business days.

In addition to the Canadian Aviation Regulations, drones are subject to the rules in all federal acts and regulations, including the Criminal Code; as well, all municipal, provincial, and territorial laws apply when it comes to dealing with issues such as privacy and trespassing.

Current regulations are not sufficient, however, for the safe integration of UAVs – particularly the smaller, lower-risk unmanned aircraft – into Canadian airspace. At the time of writing, Transport Canada has launched consultations on proposed amendments to the regulations governing the safe use of UAVs. It is expected to introduce regulatory requirements for UAVs 25 kgs or less that are operated within visual line of sight by 2016. New flight rules, aircraft marking, registration requirements, minimum age limits, and pilot permits for certain UAV operators, among others, will be some of the highlights of the proposed changes.Footnote4

In the spring of 2015, the International Civil Aviation Organization published a manual on remotely piloted aircraft systems. The U.S. Congress has set a deadline of Sept. 30, 2015, for the promulgation of essential regulations for commercial operations of drones.

An expanding and evolving UAV industry will bring a contemporaneous private drone insurance market. Until the regulations are clear, and the airspace is opened up to drone users, agreements in this area will be challenging given the fact that complete data on crashes and other incidents will not be collected. Businesses using drones will need to provide for various risks and liabilities including personal injury, invasion of privacy, and property damage to ensure all potential exposures are covered. Additionally, it will be key for insurers to know what type of data will be collected and how it will be used in order to draft policies. Information such as training and experience of the operators will be important for underwriters.Footnote5 It will be interesting to see how this private drone insurance market develops.

Prithviraj Sharma is a master's thesis student of Air and Space Law at the Institute of Air And Space Law, Faculty of Law, McGill University, Montreal, Canada.