By Kenn Oliver – The Telegram
New Transport Canada regulations regarding the recreational use of drones are ruffling a few feathers, but Jeff Ducharme says something had to be put in place to curb the irresponsible use of some of the “out-of-the-box-fliers.”
“They’re the guys who plop down $1,500 on a drone at the local electronics or hobby store, take the drone out of the box, slap the battery in it, read the quick reference guide — one of the worst things to ever happen to drones —start the engines up and straight up in the air,” said Ducharme, who teaches a drone journalism course at the College of the North Atlantic, the first of its kind in Canada when it launched in 2013.
“People want to be YouTube cowboys. They want to put these videos up and get 100,000 views. They want to go to viral. This is a driving factor. They’re not interested in doing anything.”
That said, he feels it was an irresponsible move on the part of Transport Canada to “stoke panic” in the public that the new regulations were based on a legitimate concern of near misses with aircrafts at high altitudes.
“In the aviation industry, pilots just report stuff. But there’s no proof required until it’s investigated after the fact. When they release the report that it happened, it’s an unsubstantiated report, but that gets lost and people get paranoid,” said Ducharme.
“As commercial operators, we have to do better than the rest. We have to deal with that and assure the public that we’re going to act and behave in a responsible manner.”
The regulation that has most recreational drone users up in arms is that you can no longer fly within nine kilometres of an aerodrome — anywhere an aircraft takes off or lands.
“There’s very few places, if any, left to fly in St. John’s now because you’ve got to be nine kilometres away from the international airport and from the heliport at the hospital,” Ducharme explained.
The regulations also preclude recreational pilots from flying drones weighing more than 250 grams higher than 300 feet; within 250 feet of buildings, vehicles, vessels, animals or people; more than half a kilometre from the user; at night, in cloudy conditions, or outside the visual line of sight; without a name, address and phone number affixed to the drone; and over forest fires, emergency response scenes or controlled airspace.
“It does impact people and I do understand why they’re upset, but it’s not government meddling in their lives. It’s because of a few bad apples who were irresponsible in operating these drones that caused this,” Ducharme said.
Some of the new regulations were in place prior to this year, but were more guidelines and didn’t carry any specific penalties. Breaking the rules now comes with a fine up to $3,000 for recreational users and up to $15,000 for corporations.
Ducharme, though, wonders how these rules will be enforced and figures it won’t happen in “real time” but rather in bulk, with Transport Canada investigating multiple complaints at one time.
Transport Canada says enforcement will be the duty of the agency, as well as the Royal Canadian Mount Police and local law-enforcement agencies.
But the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary says investigating reports of recreational users committing infractions presents a challenge unless they can physically locate the drone and/or operator during or after an incident.
My way or the sky way
Also troubling to Ducharme is that there’s a militant attitude among some operators when it comes to the use of their drones.
At last year’s Royal St. John’s Regatta, for instance, a recreational drone user flew his drone within feet of a commercially certified drone piloted by Chris Legrow of Cloudbreaker, which was contracted by organizers to provide aerial coverage of the event. Telegram photographer and certified pilot Keith Gosse was there and attests that when the pilot was confronted about the rules of flight at such an event, the response was less than cordial.
“People think these things are toys. It’s not a toy. This thing is a flying lawn mower and it should be treated like (one),” says Ducharme, adding that it is incumbent on professional users to educate the irresponsible ones.
“It amazes me, the way some of these people are behaving out there, that someone hasn’t been killed yet.”
He’s hopeful these new regulations and the threat of stiff fines will weed out some of the reckless users, but he figures a small percentage of people will continue to fly drones whenever and however they choose.
“The people who are going to fly through fireworks, fly over soccer games, buzz you as you’re walking along the beach, tie fireworks to their drones, those people are going to do it anyway because they don’t care.”