Thursday, February 05, 2015

Drones and the Grey-Haired Biddy

For reasons that I don't wish to elaborate on, today I was reading Mary Worth, a legacy soap opera cartoon about a self-righteous senior citizen who can't keep her nose out of her neighbours' business. She's cast as the hero of the strip, always fixing everyone's problems with sage platitudes and quotations (usually mis-attributed or out of context) with never a hair out of place. I was reading the comic online and the page served me an ad on Transport Canada UAV regulations. It was the blandest little ad, no picture, just a slogan like Know How to Use a UAV, and the Transport Canada logo. (Yes, I've refreshed the page thirty times in search of the ad, but all I get now is cruises, AMEX and evening gowns). If I weren't concerned about the technology, I doubt I would have noticed the ad nor known what it meant. As it is, I wasn't entirely sure what it would be about until I clicked on it.

It lead to this page, which lists the places you cannot fly your unmanned vehicle:

  • Closer than 9 km from any airport, heliport, or aerodrome.
  • Higher than 90 metres from above the ground.
  • Closer than 150 metres from people, animals, buildings, structures, or vehicles.
  • In populated areas or near large groups of people, including sporting events, concerts, festivals, and firework shows.
  • Near moving vehicles, avoid highways, bridges, busy streets or anywhere you could endanger or distract drivers.
  • Within restricted airspace, including near or over military bases, prisons, and forest fires.
  • Anywhere you may interfere with first responders

It also requires the drone operator to have direct visual contact (not remote camera) with the craft at all times, and has provisions for Special Flight Operations Certificates for people who need to fly in these areas.

This list is not all that different from a list of places you aren't allowed to fly an airplane without contact with air traffic control or other airspace users, plus it restricts drones to an altitude below the lowest operational specification I've ever had for operating an airplane. It's a set of rules that should keep innocent bystanders and licenced airspace users reasonably safe from drones. It's also a set of rules that almost no toy helicopter operator will ever comply with.

Do you know where all the heliports, airports and aerodromes are in a ten kilometre radius of where you are? Did you say there aren't any? Are you within ten kilometres of a hospital, television news station, or navigable water body? Chances are, the first two have heliports and the water is used for seaplanes, and there may also be a heliport to ferry harbour pilots to and from the ships. I have been in plenty of towns where the whole town is within ten kilometres of the airport.

But lets say you're diligent and manage to get nine kilometres from any airport. You drive out of town, away from the airport, and heliport to a big empty field. This field is the size of a Canadian football field and there is nothing in it. That sounds like a pretty prudent place to fly your model airplane, doesn't it? Can you fly your drone in this field, below 90 metres? If there is a cow looking over the fence on one side, a haybarn in the next field over the other way, or a road with any traffic at the end of the field, then no. A Canadian football field is 150 m long, so even in the very centre of that field, you are not 150 m from the listed hazards.

Even if you stay a football field length away, you're still probably "near" a large group of people. That's not even well enough defined to determine how easy it is to violate accidentally. The "military bases, prisons and forest fires" plus the prohibition on interfering with first responders will probably cover most restricted airspace, but I can think of some wonderfully remote spots not obviously associated with any of those institutions, where the airspace is restricted. Heck, when I was a kid I got in trouble--where in trouble means a stern man in a military police car talked to my dad--for flying a paper kite. We had managed to infringe on the protected airspace for a military airport in the area.

These regulations render pretty much all recreational UAV use illegal. Even in their video--look at the very first few frames--there appears to be a structure, a two or three story building. Would you say it was within 150 m? I'm not sure. It's really hard to find a location that meets all the criteria.

There are no grey-haired old ladies in the video, and neighbourhood busybodies should now know that it is unlawful to snoop on your neighbours with your drones. I think it's more of a Mary Worth move to go up to the couple with the UAV and tell them off for disturbing the dog. The dog in the hammock may be the best part of that video. Or maybe the man and woman are just friends, and Mary set them up with the drone to try and push them into a relationship they don't want.


Colin said...

If you aren’t allowed to fly it 150m from a person, you cannot launch it. Or, at least, most of the UAVs I have seen you want to be closer than that to confirm that everything is working properly before it gets any altitude.

Those regulations are impossible to follow.

Unknown said...

Without some sort of licensing requirement, is there any chance that a UAV operator will actually know these regs? Are they required to be printed on the packaging? ...

LocalFlightEast said...

These amateur flown drones are an accident waiting to happen.

A local website posted "amazing footage of downtown Toronto" filmed from an drone flying orbits around the CN tower.

By looking at the height, I could tell that drone was at EXACTLY the same height as local G.A traffic doing the "city tour"
it was just pure luck that there wasn't anyone around at the time.

You'd have very little chance of seeing that thing before it got caught up in your prop.

Something needs to be done, I'm just not sure what. I genuinely think that these drone operators don't mean any harm , they just aren't aware of the potential consequences of what they are doing.

Unknown said...

Maybe a higly-publicized prosecution of someone violating these rules will educate the public via the six o'clock news and the headlines BEFORE they bring down an aircraft...

Unknown said...

"You'd have very little chance of seeing that thing before it got caught up in your prop."

Not to minimize the risks, but how are the chances different from seeing birds?

Also given the height, location, and the fact it was being flown for commercial purposes, the UAV would've required a SFOC, or at least (under an exemption) contacting Air Traffic Services if entering controlled airspace.

Providing the regs with the UAV packaging sounds like a good idea to me.

Aviatrix said...

We're just asking that the bird population not be augmented with large members who have metallic bones and feathers, no integral collision avoidance circuitry, and that exhibit behaviours not studied in our wildlife awareness training.

I hit a bird a few days ago, with an AME on board. I'll have to ask him what he thinks the relative damage would have been had it been a UAV.