I recently got in touch with Matthew Johnson, President of M3 Aerial Productions Inc. in order to discuss his efforts to help provide proper training and education for anyone in Canada looking to use drones for commercial purposes. That training was developed in response to a new set of Transport Canada regulations released in December 2016 that requires proper training and education for those who wish to use drones for work purposes.
While new drone rules have been released in Canada which are set to take effect immediately, these new regulations are only governing recreational flight. Some have already commented that these new rules are more restrictive than the ones in the U.S. for recreational flyers, but the upshot of this development is that much like the United States, flying a drone in Canada is a distinct and different process when flying commercially versus recreationally.
The rules that Transport Canada released in December were centered on commercial operators, and as such they were the focus of my discussion with Matthew. In the interview below, we explore what those changes to regulation in December meant for operators, what happens if you take a drone into the air without a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) and plenty more.
Jeremiah Karpowicz: Can you tell us a little bit about M3 Aerial Productions? What sort of opportunities have you opened up for your clients with drones?
Matthew Johnson: We are a service provider, as well as a UAV pilot training Ground School. We provide farmers with crop-health data that they would not otherwise be able to know without the use of drone mapping. On the other hand, drones are becoming less expensive, and as such, producers are trying their hand at data collection themselves. We are helping them get trained to the standards required by Transport Canada in order to do that as well.
Are the farmers you’re having discussions with more open to understanding how drones can be used to their full potential than they have in the past?
Many farmers have invested in drones, and end up disappointed because they are not able to do all of the things that people like me boast they are capable of. In order to gather accurate crop health data, a near-infrared sensor is required, which can more than triple the initial investment for the drone. Then getting enough batteries to map an entire field, and the actual knowledge to do it are other limiting factors. We have courses designed to help producers realize the full potential of THEIR drones. It’s sad when they just end up on the shelf, collecting particulate.
Similarly, is the main benefit drones provide mining operations related to change detection? If so, drones are simply allowing professionals to do something they’ve always done in a more efficient manner, aren’t they?
Drones are benefiting mining, oil and gas, and many other industries in similar ways. They are allowing inspections to be completed in a safer and more efficient manner, and they are allowing data collection to be done in a much more timely manner. Accuracy is probably similar in terms of calculating stock piles, however, a drone can calculate the volume of 20 stock-piles 10 times as fast (or faster) than one or two people on the ground can.
In what ways have you been able to quantify a bottom line difference utilizing drone technology can make for your clients? Are you able to show them how drones can give them a positive ROI?
Most of our customers in 2016 wanted to test the efficacy of the technology, to see if it actually worked. We are now working with many of them in 2017 to come up with plans on how we are going to effectively collect, assess and respond to data.
Of course, ensuring those efforts are legal is the first step for any operator, so what can you tell us about the regulatory environment in Canada when it comes to flying a drone for commercial purposes?
Half of our business model is directed at training and educating the drone user, to help them better understand the regulations and safety considerations of operating a UAV. The Canadian regulatory framework is similar in many aspects to the Part 107 that the FAA has created. UAV operators in Canada require an SFOC (or to fall within the Exemption) to operate commercially, that is, to provide a realized, or perceived benefit to themselves, or anybody else from the use of their equipment. In other words, if it is used for anything besides the sheer enjoyment of flying, it is considered a commercial operation.
I understand that Transport Canada regulations released in December 2016 requires proper training and education for those who wish to use drones for commercial purposes. How did this change the existing regulation?
There were several updates to the regulations, one of the foremost being the requirement for training. Previously, you only needed Ground School training if you were operating under an SFOC. That has since changed, and now, anybody piloting a UAV as part of a commercial operation requires this Ground School training. It is a great leap forward in my opinion, and will cut back on clandestine operations significantly. Once people take the course, they realize that these things are not toys, and have the potential to cause serious damage if they are not respected. Usually once we start talking about insurance, and liability; that’s when people start to perk up in their seats!
The new regulations outline 61 conditions of the UAV Exemption, which must be met in order to fly a drone without a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC). The SFOC is essentially the equivalent of a driver’s license, but it seems many organizations elected to fly under a condition of the exemptions, correct? Do you think this will continue to be the case moving forward?
The new conditions of the UAV Exemption from an SFOC are more specific and difficult to adhere to as they were previously. It seems that in many cases, the trouble to adhere to the new regulations is almost as much as if they were to request an SFOC and do it all without worry! The penalty for operating without an SFOC when one is required, is a fine that ranges from $5000-25000. It is substantial enough that people need to take it seriously, and actually do some research before they jump into using these things in their operations on a regular basis.
Can you talk a little bit about how this regulation compares to Part 107 that was recently passed by the FAA in the United States?
One of the major differences between the Part 107 and the SFOC is that we don’t need to register our equipment (yet). That will be a significant step in the risk-mitigation process, and by the sounds of it, we are moving towards UAV registrations, however, for the time being, it is not a concern.
Does this change put commercial operators in Canada in a better position when it comes to regulation?
I wouldn’t say it is a better position – it would likely allow operators more freedom in their operations if they had to register their aircraft, as they would become more accountable for their actions. One of the biggest risk mitigation factors is accountability. The ones who are oblivious to the rules are most often the ones who are breaking them.
I’ve heard many drone technology proponents mention that Part 107 is great, but it’s just the first step in terms of where they want to see regulation going for operators in the United States. Ultimately, is the new set of regulations released by Transport Canada a stepping stone, or do they put the industry as a whole in the position where it needs to be?
Yes it is absolutely a stepping stone. Technology is advancing so rapidly, that it isn’t prudent to introduce a whole bunch of regulations that will soon be tested by new capabilities… for example – setting limits to Visual Line of Sight is required at this time, because most (not all) UAV platforms do not have the capability to communicate adequately, autonomously, with other aircraft in the sky. This is something that is rapidly moving forward, and it won’t be long until these communications instruments are a commonality on commercial-grade UAVs.
Generally speaking, what would you say about how easy or difficult it is to fly a drone for commercial purposes in Canada?
Anybody can buy a drone, and they are not particularly difficult to fly either (the good ones anyways). Barriers to entry are cost and gumption. To be successful in this industry, you must have legitimate operations, and play by the rules. When Transport Canada brings in more rules, you’ll have to adapt to them. Those unwilling or unable to adapt will be left in the wake.
What advice would you have for someone who wants to fly a UAV for commercial purposes in Canada that is familiar with UAV technology, but has no idea about what regulation looks like in Canada? What’s the best place for them to begin?
A visit to the Transport Canada website is a great place to begin! They have links to documents that provide lots of great information. Our website has lots of good information as well, www.m3aerial.com