In Canada, flying drones up to 150 kg and BVLOS over sparsely populated areas is coming with the 3Ps.

Disclaimer: Before you start expecting your local Loblaw Companies Limited or Sobeys grocery store to deliver Frito-Lay Ketchup Chips, Nanaimo bars, Auberge des Gallant Maple Syrup, and Moosehead Breweries beverages to your ice fishing shack in a sparsely populated area, it will take time as the new rules are not expected to be implemented until April 1st, 2025.

On June 24th, 2023, the proposed amendments to the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARS) that will allow for drones up to 150 kg (medium drones) and Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations in sparsely populated areas without a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) were published for public consultation. With this announcement, Transport Canada – Transports Canada is further enabling the societal and economic benefits of commercial drones. In the proposed amendments, the Federal department clearly demonstrated that they know they are going to improve life for Canadian Citizens and, it seems, tipped their hat to the future stage of commercial drone growth:

“The implementation of a new regulatory framework for medium-sized drones and lower-risk BVLOS operations would support growth and investment in the Canadian economy. It would also allow TC to shift resources towards issuing SFOCs for more complex operations – e.g. in urban centres, at higher altitudes or larger aircraft – and integration with the broader aviation sector.”

In this article, proposed amendments to the regulations will be discussed. This article is not a simple copy/paste nor an OpenAI ChatGPT summary (ChatGPT said that they “do not have direct access to browse the internet or open specific links. Therefore, i[t] cannot provide a summary”).

The intention of this article is to provide a slightly-bias opinion on what parts of the proposed amendments are relevant to the Canadian industry stakeholders and the AVSS – Aerial Vehicle Safety Solutions Inc. | Drone Parachute Recovery & Guided Delivery Systems stakeholders (e.g., commercial end users, drone manufacturers, and regulatory personnel).

Before you continue reading this article, we will point out a few obvious and non-obvious items:

  1. The proposed amendments are 174 pages when you print them by PDF and this article is only 12 pages in a word document (Calbri, 11 font);
  2. This article is a summary of some key points but not all key points;
  3. Specific items not mentioned or all angles of an argument may be missed;
  4. The author is a Canadian parachute recovery system manufacturer and performs some operations that require SFOC;
  5. The author pays taxes and has no issue with the proposed fees;
  6. A second article may be published after further industry discussions, identification of specific nuance, and reviewing the regulatory justifications from a bottom-up approach; and
  7. Slight humour/industry digs/sarcasm may be sprinkled throughout the article.

12 Key Points in Proposed Amendments:

Now, to get to the 12 key points, the proposed amendments that we believe are the most relevant and have identified are:

  1. Timelines for commenting on the amendments, staggered implementation, and full implementation;
  2. Three main objectives for the proposed amendments;
  3. Removal of the SFOC for drones up to 150 kg and BVLOS over sparsely populated areas;
  4. Increase and introduction of reasonable fees for those stakeholders that benefit the most from the proposed amendments;
  5. International harmonization;
  6. Canadian ownership requirements;
  7. Incorporation by reference;
  8. Organization requirements, pilot training & medical requirements [P1];
  9. Pre-Validated Declaration Process (PVD) [P2];
  10. Canadian drone market;
  11. Remote ID; and
  12. The process to submit comments.

(1) Timelines for commenting on the amendments, staggered implementation, and full implementation

(i) Commenting Deadline:

  • September 22nd, 2023

(ii) Initial Implementation:

  • Staggered activities, such as the ability to register drones, submit declarations, and take new pilot exams, coming into fore upon publication in Canada Gazette Part II.

(iii) Full Implementation:

  • April 1st, 2025

(2) Three main objectives for the proposed amendments

(i) Regulatory predictability, economic growth, and innovation:

  • Transport Canada wants to enable the Canadian drone industry to remain competitive while operating safely in lower-risk environments.
  • They do not want to complete SFOC reviews for specific use cases. Therefore, no more case-by-case analysis for an SFOC for the medium drones (25 kg up to 150 kg) in VLOS near and over people and lower-risk BVLOS in unpopulated and sparsely populated areas. This means a faster and smoother process for end users who want data or delivery. Additionally, Transport Canada can now spend time on more complex, urban use cases, like drone delivery, perhaps.
  • The new requirements are being grouped into what Transport Canada calls “the 3Ps”: the Pilot (pilot training and certification); the Product (aircraft and supporting systems); and the Procedures (operational rules).

(ii) Safety risk mitigation:

  • Transport Canada wants to ensure proposed amendments would still maintain safety for other airspace users and people on the ground.
  • There is also an acknowledgment that drone pilots must have the relevant knowledge to operate with medium drones and BVLOS.
  • The existing four standards and two publications for Advanced Operations are relevant here (e.g., Standard 922 – RPAS Safety Assurance for Operations Over People and the value of a parachute recovery system). More on this topic in Key Point # 7 below.

(iii) Fee modernization:

  • Transport Canada has acknowledged the relationship between regulators and the drone industry benefits when companies can plan and pay the costs: “Introducing reasonable fees to provide more predictable service to the industry”. Some stakeholders may argue for no fees, but that means Canadian taxpayers are on the hook- Pas Bon.
  • The proposed fee structure includes $10 for drone registration (up from $5), $50 level 1 complex operations exam, $1,200 for pre-validated declarations (for drone manufacturers and specific user groups), $2,000 for a high complexity SFOC (e.g., maybe urban drone delivery but “would not apply to Emergency Response Service providers, or other government organizations…to perform non-commercial first responder or emergency services or imminent threat detection operations”), and a few more.

(3) Removal of the SFOC for drones up to 150kg and BVLOS over sparsely populated areas

  • Before 2019, most drone operations required an SFOC. An SFOC is similar to a waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration and, today, Transport Canada utilizes a version of the Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned Systems (JARUS) #SORA for evaluation and approval.
  • In June 2019, Transport Canada introduced CARS Part IX, the first set of drone rules. These new rules opened the market and resulted in more drone operations. The new rules reduced the need for an SFOC for commercial drone operations; nevertheless, Transport Canada has still spent time approving over 190 SFOC for lower-risk BVLOS operations.
  • As part of their proposed amendment, Transport Canada acknowledged that “the existing Part IX of the CARs has created a strong safety baseline with no fatalities or serious injuries since coming into force in 2019”.
  • With strong data supporting safety baselines and economic benefits, Transport Canada has proposed amendments to “introduce new requirements to reflect the increased risks of the two new categories of operation. (i) Medium drones that weigh above 25 kg up to and including 150 kg flying within VLOS near and over people, in both controlled and uncontrolled airspace; and, (ii) Drones that weigh 250 g up to and including 150 kg flying BVLOS in unpopulated and sparsely populated areas, below 400 feet above ground level, and in uncontrolled airspace.”

(4) Increase and introduction of reasonable fees for those stakeholders that benefit the most from the proposed amendments

  • Yes, Transport Canada has increased and introduced fees that will affect approximately 145 402 stakeholders (manufacturers, individuals, and operators). Their math also demonstrates approximately $24.14M in industry benefits.
  • Yes, they did the math and recognized reading all of the documentation for an SFOC does cost money. Their math also shows that the Government of Canada would benefit by $4.05M over the 10-year period with the proposed fee changes and introductions.
  • Yes, those that benefit the most from the proposed amendments will need to cover the costs.
  • Yes, they took into consideration what other international jurisdictions are charging and priced the proposed fees competitively.
  • Yes, there are groups who will not be charged, such as Emergency Response providers, as they are providing a public good and are not seeking profit.
  • Yes, there are service standards in the proposed amendments. For example, the Acceptance Letter for Pre-Validated Declaration is 60 business days and a Low Complexity SFOC is 30 days.
  • Outstanding Question(s): Will Transport Canada PVD fees be SRED-able?

(5) International harmonization

  • Tailoring each commercial drone and subsystem, such as a Parachute Recovery System, to a specific market is doable. However, it is costly and can stress potential growth. Drone manufacturers and component companies must already comply with Radio Frequency requirements that are different in several markets (e.g., AVSS PRS-M300 is offered in 868MHz and 915MHz) and costly to test.
  • Transport Canada has acknowledged the intent of international harmonization and stated that they have “consulted extensively with other civil aviation authorities around the world to harmonize approaches to rulemaking where possible”. For example, the use of JARUS’s #SORA has been incorporated into evaluating SFOC applications in the past and proposed amendments continue to align with other markets. This approach provides a critical economic benefit and predictability to domestic manufacturers who are looking to export their products to international markets.
  • Transport Canada also stated that “twice a year, TC meets bilaterally with the United States Federal Aviation Authority to discuss drone policy, regulatory and program development, and more frequently as part of a working group tasked with developing a framework for future cross-border operations and mutual recognition. Canada also meets bi-weekly with aviation authorities in the U.S., Brazil (ANAC – Agência Nacional de Aviação Civil), and the European Union (EASA – European Union Aviation Safety Agency) as part of a quadrilateral group focusing on aligning, harmonizing, and sharing best practices related to the system safety requirements of the drone. TC has a close working relationship with Australia (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) and a Memorandum of Understanding is under development to further strengthen the partnership”.
  • Furthermore, “Canada’s current approach to larger drones and lower-risk BVLOS operations is like other countries, such as Brazil, the U.S., and the European Union, who currently permit BVLOS operations on a case-by-case basis with restrictions, such as maximum altitudes, system requirements for the manufacturer and additional pilot certifications via similar means to an SFOC. Canada is one of the first countries to propose regulations for routine BVLOS operations; however, the proposal is aligned with the direction of other international partners, such as the European Union, on topics including weight thresholds, new pilot certification, and emphasis on organizational requirements with the proposed RPAS Operator Certificate”.
  • Outstanding Question(s): How can other markets quickly adopt a similar approach?

(6) Canadian ownership requirements

  • Transport Canada is proposing that the ownership requirements to offer a commercial air service would better align with traditional aviation. It would require the commercial air service to be “(i) either a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident, (ii) a government in Canada or an agent or mandatory of such a government, or (iii) a corporation or entity that is incorporated or formed under the laws of Canada or a province and is controlled in fact by Canadians, with at least 75% of the voting interests owned and controlled by Canadians”.
  • Additionally, if the drone is carrying cargo, the operator would be subject to the Canadian definition under the Canadian Transportation Act (CTA) and would need to apply for an Economic License.
  • Non-Canadian/Non-Permanent Resident holders from countries where Canada has a trade agreement can still apply for an SFOC for Speciality air services and the proposed amendment mentions that there could be exemptions for those potential operators from non-trade agreement countries.
  • Outstanding Question(s): How will foreign drone delivery companies react to the Canadian ownership requirements?

(7) Incorporation by reference

  • As per the proposed rules, “Incorporation by Reference (IBR) is a term used to describe a mechanism which allows a document or list that is not in the text of the regulations to be made a part of the regulations and provides more detail about how to comply with the regulations. The incorporation of these elements is consistent with the scope of authority of the enabling statute (the Aeronautics Act) and these documents and standards can be properly characterized as elaborating on the regulations.”
  • These documents include (i) Standard 921 – Remotely Piloted Aircraft; (ii) Standard 922 – RPAS Safety Assurance; (iii) Standard 923 – Vision-based detection and avoidance (DAA); (iv) Standard 924 – RPAS Medical; (v) TP 15263 Knowledge requirements for existing basic and advanced operations; and (vi) TP 15530 – Knowledge requirements for BVLOS.
  • Of these IBR, Standard 921Standard 922, and TP 15263 are existing. For example, Standard 922 is used for self-declarations for flight over people and AVSS used this standard to declare the DJI M300 RTK for Over People with the ASTM F3322-18 Parachute Recovery System (PRS-M300).
  • New standards created without hyperlinked references at publication are Standard 923 – “a new standard that has been developed to support the DAA of other aircraft”, Standard 924 – “a new standard that has been developed to support the fitness of pilots”, and TP 15530 – “a new TC publication that has been developed to support the new knowledge requirements for level 1 complex operations”.
  • Transport Canada has stated that they will continue to monitor industry developments and may update requirements, including “any new information from standard-setting bodies and the safety performance of operations subject to the new standards, and assess whether any standards would need to be updated”.
  • Outstanding Question(s): Does “Vision-based” mean only cameras will be accepted for DAA or will radar solutions be acceptable?
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AVSS’s ASTM F3322-18 compliant PRS-M300 attached to the DJI M300 RTK, which is self-declared for flight over people as per Standard 922 requirements. Photo Credit: Geolayer Kft

(8) Organization requirements, pilot training & medical requirements

  • Per the proposed amendments, this section is P1: The Pilot, which includes pilot training and certification.
  • Advanced Pilots without a new certificate – Transport Canada has monitored developments over the last three years and has determined that Advance Pilot Certificate holders have earned the right to expand their mission sets without a new pilot certificate. These include VLOS of medium drones (25 kg up to 150 kg), EVLOS with a visual observer, and sheltered operations without a visual observer.
  • Advanced Pilots with a new certificate – Pilots would require a new pilot certification for lower-risk BVLOS, referenced as Level 1 Complex Operations. The initial process will include Step 1: Ground school; Step 2: Online exam, Step 3: Medical assessment, and Step 4: In-person flight review. This certificate would not expire, but retraining would need to be completed every two years and medical re-examination every five years.
  • Flight Schools & Reviewers – For a pilot to complete Step 4: In-person flight review, they will need to find a training provider that has a Flight Reviewer with a Level 1 Complex Pilot Certificate. As well, the school would need to provide at least 20 hours of instruction in line with TP 15530 – Knowledge Requirements for Level 1 Complex Operations. Note, the proposed draft for TP 15530 is supposed to be published on the CARAC website.
  • Outstanding Question(s): Will the Canadian drone industry have a chicken-and-an-egg problem? Who will train the first Level 1 Complex Pilot Flight Reviewers? Will there be Alternative Means of Compliance, such as using ISO 21384-3, which is an internationally recognized standard for the operation of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) and offered by AltoMaxx Technologies Inc.

(9) Pre-Validated Declaration Process (PVD)

  • Per the proposed amendments, this Section is P2: The Product, which includes aircraft and supporting systems.
  • Do not worry, Transport Canada is not asking for drone manufacturers to be Type Certified. The PVD is a two-step process that requires a drone manufacturer or service provider to, first, submit a plan to Transport Canada to demonstrate how their aircraft or system design meets Standard 922. Then, within 60 business days, Transport Canada will provide a response, assuming all documentation was sent. Once Transport Canada accepts the plan and sends the manufacturer or service provider an acceptance letter, “the manufacturer or service provider would execute the accepted plan, and subsequently declare to TC that their system meets (updated) Standard 922”.
  • In the proposed amendments, the updated Standard 922 will be available at the time of prepublication of the proposed amendments.
  • An additional proposed amendment that makes a lot of practical sense, but tracking may be difficult depending on data security requirements is the annual reporting requirement. Today, there is scant data on drone failure/issues. One country that seems to be the leader and does a great job is the UK Civil Aviation Authority with its safety reporting after an incident through Air Accidents Investigation Branch reports. However, I am not sure about how much data they receive in proactive reporting.
  • With the proposed amendments, “to maintain a PVD on a drone, manufacturers or service providers would need to report annually to TC with the estimated number of product flight hours, a description of any safety-related issues that came up over the year, and any design changes that may affect the compliance with the requirements in Standard 922”.
  • Finally, PVD holders will need to develop a system for “Service Difficulty Report”. As per Transport Canada, “a service difficulty is any malfunction or defect that could affect the safety of the drone or could injure a person”. This type of reporting is similar to the requirements for Category 2 and Category 3, Flight Over People by the FAA. In essence, a notification process to end users if a drone needs to be grounded/not used in flight. AVSS has already created this process for firmware updates by requiring customers to register their Parachute Recovery Systems and views this requirement similarly to what the automotive industry has for product notification issues.
  • Outstanding Question(s): How much time will manufacturers and service providers have to review and submit the PVD? How will annual reporting be implemented for domestic and foreign manufacturers? How do we ensure that manufacturers do not lie about their Acceptance Plan completion similar to the Standard 922 self-declarations with the “Transport Canada Approved” false marketing (very common under the Over People Category)?

(10) Canadian drone market

  • The Canadian drone market is growing, and the proposed amendments should be more fuel for take-off. Yes, way too punny.
  • Per the proposed amendments, as of February 2023, there were nearly 74,000 registered drones and over 88,000 pilot certificates issued. For traditional aircraft, Transport Canada has stated that there were 37,000. Clearly, the Canadian drone market is here to stay and further integration with traditional aviation is warranted.

(11) Remote ID

  • To the American readers, Transport Canada mentioned the need for Remote-ID zero (0) times. Sorry.

(12) The process to submit comments

  • As someone who reviews and submits comments to proposed amendments and regulations in various countries, I would like to applaud the IT staff and Transport Canada personnel for their process to submit comments on the proposed amendments.
  • Instead of a spreadsheet or a separate document, Transport Canada is allowing input in the direct forum and in specific sections.
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Screenshot of Transport Canada’s proposed amendments and its simple process for submitting a comment.

Canadian Trivia:

For those readers that completed this article but do not understand why there is a photo and mention of Ketchup Chips, Nanaimo Bars, Maple Syrup, and Moosehead, I will provide you with a bit of Canadian Trivia:

  • Ketchup Chips – Yes, we have ketchup flavoured chips. There is a mystery to the origin but if you’d like to buy some, I may know a source.
  • Nanaimo Bars – These tasty snacks were created in Nanaimo, British Columbia following World War II.
  • Maple Syrup – AVSS’s number 1 swag at tradeshows.
  • Moosehead – Canada’s oldest independent brewery that was founded in 1867 and is still privately run by the original family in Saint John, New Brunswick.

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