March 5, 2021

Drones in Canada: Safety Concern or Opportunity?

Have you seen our dashboard published in the Public Sector Digest August issue?  Here’s the full story behind the Data Moment!

Drones Can Cause Serious Accidents

Recent increases in drone operations near manned aircraft have created a safety concern for commercial pilots, their crews and their passengers. New legislation has become increasingly restrictive for drone operators in Canada.

An overview of these near-misses between January 2016 and July 2017 was published in the Public Sector Digest online August issue, and we elaborate below:

Most of these incidents are thought to be due to citizen use of drones – individuals who are less likely to know of and abide by Transport Canada airspace regulations.  These recreational incidents are not only putting lives in danger, they can also represent a risk to widespread commercial adoption of drones.

Statistically speaking, Vancouver seems to have the most overall incidents in Canada – including the commercial pilot’s most-dangerous location of Vancouver Harbour Airport.  Considering current Transport Canada regulations limiting drone flying within 5.5 km of an airport, future city planners might think twice before locating an airport near city and national parks with easy driving access – an invitation for a Sunday-afternoon accident with significant impact on this nascent industry.

A Sprouting Industry

Currently, there are 259 drone businesses in Canada, mainly operating in 4 different activity sectors:

41 % offer drone services, or any activity that supports the drone industry, such as consulting, repairs, fleet management or analytics;

26% are drone manufacturers, involved in assembling drones or manufacturing drone parts, including accessories;

17% are non-profit organizations, universities or private flight schools that promote the safe use of drones and research in this area;

Only 16% operate mainly as drone flyers, offering a variety of services such as building inspections, crop monitoring or surveys of an area for mineral deposits.

Of these businesses, 17% have a secondary activity sector, often complementary to their primary offering.  For example, some drone flyers also offer to analyze the data they have gathered for their clients, and some drone manufacturers also offer repair services.

All of these businesses have to be certified by Transport Canada to operate, a strong incentive to abide by Canada’s airspace regulations.  They also offer unique opportunities for Canadians.

Drone Deliveries: an Opportunity for Remote and Rural Areas?

Successful use cases of drone deliveries have shown that the transport of medication to rural or remote areas is achievable, mainly because the packages are usually small, light, and valuable.

In Ontario alone, there are at least 25 communities qualified as “remote” – these are so far from urban centres that they need to rely on generators for electricity.  Closer to cities are rural areas, which are connected to electricity grid systems, but still considered harder to reach by road.  These regions face many challenges, and a recurrent theme is access to health services. 

If the pharmaceutical industry developed drone delivery services in Ontario, they could make sure that its 543 pharmacies considered rural or remote, as well as about one million individuals they serve, always have access to the medication they need.

Will Safety Concerns Outweigh Perceived Benefits?

The sprouting Canadian drone industry brings both challenges and opportunities.  Encouraging its development can benefit citizens and businesses, but it does come with a heavy responsibility.  Concerns for the lives of pilots and passengers will only increase if airspace regulations cannot keep pace with the technological storm.  In the next few years, Canada will have interesting choices to make, and its stance will determine the future of its drone industry.

This post was written by Valérie Plante-Brisebois

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