Transport Canada and RCMP investigate ‘unmanned air vehicle’ close to commercial flights

Transport Canada and the RCMP are investigating videos posted on YouTube showing an “unmanned air vehicle” flying near Vancouver International Airport and over Vancouver Harbour, the site of commercial float-plane operations.

Transport Canada spokesman Rod Nelson said Tuesday the federal department is “very concerned about the operations of this UAV and we have been working with the RMCP to determine the operator’s identity.”

Earlier Tuesday, The Vancouver Sun posted a YouTube video showing a UAV photographing a commercial passenger jet on arrival at the north runway at Vancouver International Airport. Someone identified as “Quadrotor Dragonfly” uploaded the 41-second video on Nov. 4, 2013, writing: “I am hooked on multirotors. I have been building multirotors for aerial filming and also autonomous flights. With this channel, I endeavour to share my adventures.”

Other videos posted under the name Quadrotor Dragonfly show the model aircraft flying all over the city, including where float planes land and takeoff in Coal Harbour.

The Model Aeronautics Association of Canada expressed outraged, saying that whoever is responsible for the videos is giving the hobby a bad name.

Steve Hughes, an Armstrong-based representative on MAAC’s board of directors, said the UAV is clearly not flying in accordance with his organization’s rules.

“This is a totally unacceptable use of such equipment, something we’re trying to prevent,” he said in an interview. “It’s pilots like these who can give the hobby a black eye. YouTube is going to be the death of us.”

News of the videos follows a Vancouver Sun story revealing that on March 29 last year a radio-controlled helicopter posed a “serious risk of collision” with an Air Canada passenger jet during its landing approach.

Federal aviation safety reports revealed that the Air Canada Boeing 777-300 was flying at 600 metres when the crew observed the radio-controlled helicopter pass within 20 to 30 metres of the aircraft at the same altitude. The crews of subsequent aircraft also reported seeing it flying above 450 metres. RCMP were dispatched but no helicopter or operator could be found.

Enthusiasts with MAAC typically don’t fly above 120 metres and keep their aircraft within line of sight — neither of which appeared to be the case in the videos.

There is nothing to show that Quadrotor Dragonfly is linked to the risk-of-collision incident on March 29.

And while the YVR video is taken from a farther distance with a zoom lens, it appears to be at the same altitude as the aircraft.

Bill Yearwood, regional manager of the federal transportation safety board, confirmed: “While this one was off to the side of the normal flight path, it clearly shows that a UAV can get in the path of an airliner on approach to a major airport over a built-up area.”

Nelson said that the Civil Aviation Regulations require anyone conducting UAV operations similar to those depicted in the videos to obtain and comply with the provisions of a Special Flight Operations Certificate issued by Transport Canada. “We recommend that pilots contact Transport Canada beforehand … to ensure that the anticipated flying activity is done in a manner that is safe for manned aircraft, and those on the ground.”

Violators are subject to fines under the Aeronautics Act.

Due to the diversity of UAVs in terms of aircraft performance capabilities, mission requirements and operating environment, operating conditions outlined in an operations certificate, such as the maximum flight altitude and the specific geographic area, vary on a case-by-case basis, Nelson said.

Anyone with information on the YouTube videos is asked to call Transport Canada at 1-877-992-6853.

MAAC has 11,500 members across Canada, 1,100 of whom live in the Lower Mainland. The videos will be debated at MAAC’s annual general meeting next week in Quebec City.