Drone News in Canada: 2019
The drone industry in Canada has been growing substantially over the past several months. From new technological announcements to key partnerships to Transport Canada’s new drone regulations, drone companies have been rapidly expanding and adjusting their businesses to better suit the needs of Canadians.
There were an estimated 337,468 drones in use in 2017, with 74 per cent being used for recreational reasons and 26 for non-recreation purposes, according to the Canadian Parliament.
Regardless of how many drones are being used in Canadian airspace today, that number has been predicted to grow substantially. Price Waterhouse Cooper (PWC) estimated the drone industry to be worth over $127 billion.
As the new Transport Canada regulations have been put into effect, the drone industry has entered a new level of maturity. As a technology, unmanned aerial systems are now being taken more seriously and many industries have already adapted drones to their operations including agriculture and military.
These changes have been evident by the vast number of news articles and announcements that have come out this year alone. Here are some highlights:
Drone technology has been advancing over the last few years, and the first part of 2019 saw some upgrades for Canada’s drone industry.
Drone Delivery Canada showed off its Condor drone in February. The Condor is expected to be a delivery cargo aircraft. It will have a capacity of 400 lbs and can travel up to 200 kms. Measuring 22-feet long, five feet wide and seven feet tall, the Condor has a gas propulsion engine. Its wingspan is about 20 feet and was designed to vertically take-off and land.
The Condor is in addition to the company’s Sparrow, Raven and Falcon drone crafts. Testing for the Falcon began in January 2019. It is able to carry up to 50 lbs and travel 60 kms. Transport Canada approved testing within Southern Ontario.
In comparison to the Condor, the company’s first model, the Sparrow, is only capable of carrying 10 lbs of cargo and travel a few kms. The Raven can carry 25 lbs and fly 60 kms.
Testing of the Condor is expected to start later in 2019.
In May, it was announced at the CANSEC defence trade show that Canada’s military drones will be equipped with PicoSAR Active Electronically Scanned Array radars. These new additions would be used in all-weather ground mapping and surveillance.
Canada’s military has been looking into equipping itself with armed drones following budget approval by the Trudeau government. The decision has been a long time coming as the organization has been researching drone options since 2000, according to The Canadian Press.
The Royal Canadian Air Force was expected to present their plans for a medium-altitude, long-endurance drone for military use. The craft will be used for overseas military missions as well as surveillance.
Canada’s Forces are slightly behind the curve as reports indicated that 76 foreign militaries were already using drones in their activities and another 50 militaries are developing them.
Air force commander Lt.-Gen. Al Meinzinger told the media outlet that he personally saw the benefits of a drone in combat areas during the Canadian Forces exploits in Afghanistan. He also noted that “the employment of those weapons will be within the bounds of law of armed conflict and regulated very clearly.”
A Fredericton-based company has been using advanced technology to help maintain and fix drones so that they are in top condition during flights across the country, including to remote areas.
Thanks to Kognitiv Spark’s technology, drone systems and applications will be able to be repaired quickly through HoloLens connectivity. Their innovation means that Canadian drone companies will not need to send their devices overseas to be fixed but can resolve operation or maintenance issues from the comfort of their homes.
Kognitiv Spark’s vice president of Energy and Industrial Engineering said the move made sense as drones were going to be used for a variety of tasks.
“From a maintenance perspective or if there’s a breakdown or problems if you can’t resolve it over the phone with the people in Inuvik, or somewhere else in northern Canada, maybe the people in Europe would have to fly over. That’s where our solution comes in,” Rodney McAffee told Huddle.
On January 9, 2019, Transport Canada announced new regulations for the drone industry. The rules established two categories of drone operations: basic and advanced. Drone pilots will need to follow the rules for their category depending on the size and perimeters of the operation. There was also an age limit put into effect. Drone pilots in the basic category must be at least 14 years of age. Those in the advanced category must be 16 years of age. In addition, pilots will need to undergo a test to earn a certificate before they can legally fly drones. These regulations came into effect on June 1, 2019. In addition, an updated website specifically for those in the drone industry was released: Canada.ca/drone-safety.
“Drones are part of an important economic sector with significant potential to improve lives and connect communities across the country,” Minister of Transport, Marc Garneau was quoted as saying.
“Our new regulations will create new opportunities for Canadians by establishing a safe and predictable regulatory environment where the industry can innovate and where recreational and non-recreational drone pilots can safely access Canadian airspace.”
Anyone found violating the regulations could be fined up to $25,000 and face time in jail.
One of the major reasons for the regulations was to protect airspace, particularly after incidents in the UK where drones were spotted near Heathrow and Gatwick airports. As a result, travellers were faced with delays. Garneau told the media that his ministry had been working with airports to define measures if such incidents were to happen in Canada.
“Obviously, for security reasons, I can’t go into details on that, but this is something we are looking at extremely seriously because it represents potentially a dangerous situation,” he was quoted as saying by The Toronto Star.
According to the publication, the first collision between a drone and passenger plane was in 2017 near Quebec City’s airport. Despite being hit, the Skyjet pilot was able to bring the plane down safely.
The new regulations were seen by some in the industry as a welcome change.
“From a commercial perspective, it’s going to encourage further (investment) because you clearly understand what the rules are, and clarity is good for business,” chairman of Unmanned Systems Canada, Mark Aruja, was quoted as saying.
“On the recreational side, as long as the technology remains accessible and fun, I don’t think it’s going to hamper things, just make things clearer.”
While not a new company on the scene, but certainly one of the most talked about, Drone Delivery Canada announced in April that it was going to expand into eight different areas where they believed drone technology would see substantial growth. These industries include:
- Oil and gas
VP of operations & Strategy, Michael Zahra said the company saw so many opportunities in Canada and around the world.
“We are also seeing an increase in traction with our international customers globally as our drone delivery system continues to be validated globally. Our proven system is seen as a commercially viable delivery infrastructure solution to companies looking to reduce costs and dramatically improve logistics,” he was quoted in a press release.
The company has also been aggressively moving forward with plans to develop a commercial delivery drone service. On June 4, the company announced they signed a commercial contract with Air Canada. This agreement opens up 150,000 drone delivery routes across the country.
“The tech in our opinion has been proven out and now we have Canada’s largest aircraft carrier on board utilizing the technology,” the company’s CEO Tony Di Benedetto told the Financial Post.
Drone Delivery Canada also has the vice president of cargo from Air Canada, Tim Strauss, on their advisory board.
“We believe drone technology has the potential to offer the cargo community cost-effective solutions to complex issues related to supply chain distribution in non-traditional markets, including remote communities in Canada,” Strauss was quoted as saying.
The new regulations laid out by Transport Canada have set a standard for drone companies to meet and companies like Aeromao have been reassuring consumers that their products are on Transport Canada’s list of complaint products. The company offers four drone systems including Aeromapper Talon, Aeromapper 300, Quad Mapper VTOL and Nano Mapper.
The Canadian-based company exports its drone systems to 48 countries to be used in a variety of industries including agriculture, inspection, surveillance, mapping and surveying.
DJI also announced that most of their drones were in compliance with Transport Canada standards. Their complaint products include the Matrice 600 Series, Matrice 200 Series, Matrice 200 V2 Series, Inspire 2, Mavic 2 Series, Mavic Air, Mavic Pro, Spark, and Phantom 4 Series.
In March, Transport Canada entered its final testing stage of arctic surveillance using drones. The three-year program was a partnership between the government and a private drone company based in Nunavut and the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The goal of the program is to enable Canada to detect oil spills, monitor the environment and conduct search and rescue missions when needed.
“Transport Canada is committed to protecting Canada’s environment and the Remotely Piloted Aircraft System will primarily be used to watch the Canadian Arctic by monitoring marine habitats and activity on the oceans,” Transport Canada spokesperson Annie Joannette was quoted as saying.
For testing purposes, the team used a Sea Hunter drone, which is a product from Griffon Aerospace based in Alabama. However, Joannette said they were not sure which drone would be used when the trial was over and the program was up and running.
During the testing, the Sea Hunter was taken up to about 4,000 feet and over 5,500 kilometres. The craft, which has two high-resolution camera systems on board, was able to capture valuable data and images.
“Drones can improve surveillance because they’re able to fly longer and farther than manned aircraft,” Joannette was quoted as saying. “This is vital during an environmental incident such as an oil spill. Drones reach areas manned aircraft cannot, cost less to operate and are more environmentally friendly.”
Other Canadian industries have also begun to employ drone technology to change the way they do business. Ernst & Young have been using drones in some of their audit work, according to an article by the Chartered Professional Accountants Canada.
“We used it just last year for a truck company that we audit,” the company’s senior manager, assurance services Andrew Morgan said. “They have a number of trucks in their inventory in various yards. So, we hired a drone operator to fly over one of the yards and take about 300 photos. They were quite detailed, and it allowed us to do a 100 per cent inventory count—it gives us good assurance of the existence of those trucks.”
Morgan also noted that using drones for audits can save time and money for clients and the company. EY also uses drones for agricultural audits as helicopters cost more.
Commercial deliveries have become closer to reality for Canadian shoppers. Delivery service testing was done at some locations in Northern Ontario. Moose Cree First Nation and Drone Delivery Canada signed a $2.5 million deal to get supplies, medicine, food and mail delivered.
The region is difficult to reach, and residents are often dependent upon deliveries that are brought in by boat over the summer months or an ice road or helicopter in the winter. There is no bridge that connects the reserve to the mainland.
"It's really about trying to service communities that lack infrastructure, where basic goods are very difficult to obtain, and when you can obtain them, it is very, very expensive," Drone Delivery Canada’s Tony Di Benedetto was quoted by the BBC.
More than just make deliveries, the drones will be used to monitor the region and track any season changes.
"It would be ideal to use a drone to monitor river break-ups in the spring, because when we charter a helicopter it can be very expensive by the hour,” Moose Cree First Nation’s director of economic development Stan Kapashesit told the BBC.
As the drone industry continues to grow, legal issues have also come to the forefront. In May, a report on the lesson learned in the country’s first drone lawsuit was published. The article noted that R v Shah demonstrated the challenges that come with introducing drones into Canadian airspace.
The lawsuit saw Mr. Shah charged under the Canadian Aviation Regulations by the RCMP who were concerned that the man was operating a drone in a restricted area, namely near the Calgary International Airport.
As a result of the court case, there were several issues regarding drones in Canada’s airspace that the authors noted would need legal guidance to resolve. These include night operations, cold air or winter flights and manufacturing standards.
Other issues around drone use were unveiled in a Cottage Life article. The piece noted that many cottage visitors have started to use drones to capture amazing images and videos. However, there has also been a downfall where some drone pilots “harass” animals with the device. Transport Canada does have regulations in place to deal with these scenarios.
Cottage Life also noted that privacy issues have not been a major concern according to law enforcement officials.
“We have not had any complaints with respect to the technology,” Ontario Provincial Police sergeant Peter Leon told the publication. “Most people using them are very respectful.”
The use of drones at lakefront or summer holiday properties has led to new activities including drone racing events and first-person view flying, which combines virtual reality with drone operations.
While most drone pilots use their devices responsibly, there have been some not-so-legal operations over the past few months. In fact, guards at one institution in British Columbia discovered a drone that was trying to deliver tobacco and drugs to prisoners.
These jail deliveries have caused the Correctional Service of Canada to come up with radar-based technology for six federal prisons. The systems are set to be tested over the next four years at prisons in Mission, B.C., Stony Mountain in Manitoba, Cowansville and Donnacona in Quebec, Collins Bay in Ontario and Dorchester in New Brunswick.