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Editorial: Drone growth in Canada

July 7, 2021  ByHelicopters Staff


Among a range of important drone programs to be introduced in Canada since the start of this year, two recent initiative are set to foster the adoption of Remotely Pilot Aerial Systems (RPAS) in the country. This includes the NAV Drone app introduced by NAV Canada at the start of June and, in May, the introduction of a robust new drone pilot membership program by the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPA), which already holds by far the largest membership base in Canadian aviation at more than 15,000 people.

The drone or RPAS community in Canada has grown significantly over the past few years. Borrowing statistics gleaned by contributor Phil Lightstone, there were 59,242 registered drones in Canada as of April 30, 2021, and 54,047 basic drone pilot certificate holders, as well as 5,406 advanced operations pilot certificate holders. As of January 2021, there were 1,782,479 drones registered in the U.S., reports Lightstone, who quotes an executive from Altohelix estimating that the annual sales of unregistered drones in Canada to be around $40 million.

In releasing the NAV Drone app, NAV Canada adds more intrigue to the growth of drones in the country, noting that from June to December 2020, it received nearly 16,000 RPAS flight authorization requests, a 54 per cent increase over the same period in 2019. The not-for-profit company, which provides air traffic control, airport advisory services, weather briefings and aeronautical information services for more than 18 million square kilometres of Canadian domestic and international airspace, says it expects this trend to continue as a growing number of companies and individuals find new uses for drones in Canada, outlining a need to ensure safe operation for all types of aircraft in the country’s airspace. This is a key function of the NAV Drone app (with a Web-based browser version also available), which is designed to help drone pilots and operators safely and legally fly their remote aerial systems in Canada. NAV Drone is part of NAV Canada’s national strategy for air traffic safety and technological innovation in Canadian airspace.

NAV Drone allows users to submit drone flight authorization requests from a mobile device. To this end, NAV Drone is the only app that can provide drone pilots and operators with permission to fly in NAV Canada controlled airspace. Its interface allows users to visualize where basic and advanced drone pilots can fly and to also update and manage flights.

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Aiming to bridge the gap between traditional and remote aviation, COPA on May 14 introduced new membership options to include Canada’s growing drone pilot community, noting how the technology is transforming Canada’s economy through a range of missions like disaster management, search and rescue, infrastructure, photography and imaging and product delivery, in addition to recreational use. COPA’s membership program includes insurance options, regulatory support and future plans for RPAS scholarships for both new pilots and professionals transitioning out of traditional aviation roles. 

Transport Canada is also building more RPAS framework, including its recent unveiling of proposed fees for both low-risk drone operations beyond visual line of sight and for operations within visual line of sight with heavier drones. In early May, Transport launched a new advisory committee called the Canadian Drone Advisory Committee (CanaDAC) to serve as a national forum for a range of RPAS industry stakeholders to provide input and ultimately inform priority policy and regulatory areas of focus.

This new committee will convene for at least two years and bring together up to 35 leaders and subject matter experts, explains Transport Canada, from a range of sectors with ties to the drone sector. Membership for the committee was determined through an internal nomination process based on its need to ensure overall objectives of diversity and representation are met, including economic, environmental and social impacts.

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