Drones fall into a legal grey area because they’re so new – no laws prohibit their use.
The penalty for operating UAVs without an SFOC is a $5,000 fine for recreational users, and $25,000 for businesses. However, this is where it gets a bit tricky – though an SFOC needed to be able to fly, that’s only applicable if your UAV weighs more than 35 kilograms. If it’s lighter than that, they’re considered “model aircrafts” and you no longer need to ask the federal department permission to launch. Not surprisingly, one of the most popular drones available is the DJI Phantom, which costs roughly $600, weighs less than 1,000 grams and is ready to be flown right out of the box.
“I think what we’re seeing is a transition between hobby and mainstream,” Eric Cheng, DJI’s director of aerial photography, told Vice, “We’re working as hard as we can [to make sure people fly them safely]. It’s an ongoing issue to help educate first-time buyers. It’s a dialogue between us and the customers and policy makers. We’ve been proactive in setting up infrastructure in the Phantom line to help people fly them as safely as possible… [right now] people buy it on Amazon and take it outside without reading the manual.”
Cheng has a point – up until recently, Model Aircraft owners have been flight enthusiasts. They would build their own planes out of their love for flying – practicing at low altitudes and learning how to control their aircraft before sending them high into the sky. Flights were also done in large open spaces like fields and parks – largely unpopulated areas that had little air traffic to worry about. But now, because of the ability to put a camera on your “ready to fly” aircraft, people aren’t going airborne for the love of flying, they’re doing it to capture footage for their latest YouTube video which is causing inexperienced pilots to fly increasingly dangerous routes.
“I crashed my aircraft almost instantly. I got it as a gift so I didn’t really know how difficult they were to control.” says Seth Vellani, a Vancouver local and owner of a quadcopter model aircraft. Though the controls are basic, model aircrafts and UAVs can be hard to pilot once you’re in the air. For example: on the DJI Phantom 2, forward on the controller is relative to the direction the drone is facing. So if you’re flying straight ahead of you, it will fly towards you – but when you’re looking at the drone from the side and have to quickly maneuver out of harm’s way, it’s easy to take a wrong turn and get into trouble.
DJI has already taken steps to making their drones safer by adding built on no-fly zones to their models, so if you get too close to an airport, it will begin to land immediately. “I was trying to use my drone and it wouldn’t take off. At first I was worried, I thought I broke it, but then it said on the screen that I was too close to a restricted area.” says Vincent Cheng, a DJI Phantom user. They’ve also added the ability to set height and distance limits so you don’t accidently exceed local flight regulations.
Unfortunately, a person trying to capture a sunrise and crashing into the side of a mountain hasn’t been the only problem with drones. “There have been at least ten complaints since May made by people regarding drones flying too close to homes or high-rises.” Vancouver Police told CTV News. BC isn’t the only place struggling with drones invading people’s privacy. In Ottawa, a man complained this spring about a drone flying close to his complex and in the US, a man in New York was arrested for flying his drone too close to the George Washington Bridge. The problem is that drones fall into a legal grey area because they’re so new – no laws prohibit their use.
“Right now in Canada we don’t have any laws that regulate recreational drones, specifically, especially in terms of privacy,” Ciara Bracken-Roche, a member of Queen’s University’s Surveillance Studies Centre, told CBC, “[but,] If you’re inside your 10th-floor condo and a drone flies outside your window and takes pictures into your private dwelling, your reasonable expectation of privacy is totally violated.”
To make matters even more difficult, there’s not much the police can do if you feel you’re being harassed by a drone. To launch an investigation in Canada, you must be able to identify the organization you want investigated, but since a drone’s pilot is hard to spot from the 10th floor of your condo, it presents a difficult task for people. “In some instances there may be grounds to lay charges if the behaviour was seen to meet the requirements under the Criminal Code for these charges. That said, it would be very dependent on the individual facts of each case.” noted Const. Pierre Bourdages, the public information officer for Halifax Regional Police. The laws will need to adapt to the technology. People need to see a drone and know that if they start to feel uncomfortable by it, they can take action.
The prospect of what drones will be capable of in the future is exciting. With the potential for journalists to get closer to dangerous situations without putting their lives at risks, and search and rescue teams scouting out areas so they can work as efficiently as possible, drones have the potential to do a lot of good. Recreationally, people will be able to capture their vacations in a whole new way and hopefully the makers of drones can follow in the footsteps of DJI and continue to make their aircrafts as safe for new users as possible.
Campus Life Editor
Community Relations Manager
Arts and Culture Editor