Drone highways years away; regulations must address liability issues

Today, businesses using drones negotiate terms with Transport Canada on a case-by-case basis

You click “buy.” You make a cup of tea. Before the kettle whistles, a drone drops off your package. This future of commerce is still a while away. Although Canadian regulation works for small-scale commercial drone use, the framework isn’t set up for more widespread adoption of unmanned aerial vehicles, experts say.

“Technically our system is flexible enough to deal with it. In practice … when the airspace truly becomes congested, we’re probably years away from that,” says Diana Cooper, Head of Drones and Robotics at law firm LaBarge Weinstein LLP.

Dave Kroetsch, president of drone manufacturer Aeryon Labs in Waterloo, Ont., points out the vast majority of projects involve using drones in relatively isolated areas within a human’s line of sight. When unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) move beyond line of sight, Kroetsch said the well-controlled regulatory framework that has served the companies so well essentially ceases to exist. He also explains current regulations don’t address liability issues.

“When there is an accident, because statistically it just will happen, who’s responsible … and how do you deal with that from a regulatory perspective?” he said. “It’s not the kind of thing that’s really been tackled yet.”

The country’s regulations for unmanned aircraft are currently spelled out by Transport Canada, Cooper said, adding that most safety measures are merely strongly encouraged guidelines. Businesses wanting to use drones for day-to-day operations apply for a Special Flight Operations Certificate from Transport Canada, which negotiates terms on a case-by-case basis.


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