Troy Shantz and George Mathewson
Transport Canada has imposed tough new restrictions on where and when recreational drone users can fly their aircraft, which just might increase membership at a local radio-controlled flyers club.
Drone owners can no longer fly remote-controlled devices weighing more than 250 grams higher than 90 metres or within 75 metres of buildings, vehicles, animals or people.
Nor can they be flown with nine kilometres of a place that aircraft take off or land. Given the central location of Sarnia Chris Hadfield Airport, that effectively bans recreational drones across most of the city.
Violating those and host of other Transport Canada restrictions can result in a fine of up to $3,000.
But the new rules don’t apply to people flying at sites and events sanctioned by the Model Aeronautics Association of Canada, including the Sarnia-based Bluewater RC Flyers and its flying field on Petrolia Line.
“The main thing about being an MAAC member is that you have the national body backing you up, and we have insurance coverage,” said Paul Chitty, president of the 40-member club.
“As long as you’re within the laws of MAAC you’re covered for $7.5 million.”
Ottawa said it imposed the rules because the popularity of drones and quadcopters has led to a sharp increase in reported safety incidents.
“Parents buy their kids a drone and they take it down to the local park and they fly it. They have no training, they have no insurance, basically they have no regulations to control what they’re doing,” Chitty said.
“If they have an accident — and there’s been accidents in the States with drones hitting people — they’ve got to foot the bill for the insurance claims, and it can be pretty damned expensive.”
The Bluewater RC Flyers has been operating 45 years and runs a number of special events, including indoor flying at St. Patrick’s High school in winter months.
It also hosts summer demonstrations on sites beyond its designated Petrolia line property. Membership is $75 per year.
“The MAAC rules basically say that you can fly anywhere and you’re covered by insurance, as long as the landowner gives you permission,” said Chitty.
The new regulations also prohibit recreational drones from flying more than 500 metres away from its user, at night or in the clouds. Drones must also be marked with the name, address and phone number of its owner.
The new regulations do not, however, apply to those who operate drones and quadcopters for professional purposes, such as real-estate photography or agriculture purposes. They have their own set of Transport Canada rules.
Complete details and rules for recreational and professional drone operators can be found at www.tc.gc.ca.