FAA Fiddles While Canadian Drones Earn

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As U.S. Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV or drone) developers, manufacturers and potential users are howling at or suing the FAA for its ongoing refusal to allow commercial UAV operations, commercial drone use in Canada has, dare we say it, taken off. Transport Canada, the Canadian equivalent of the FAA, set up a permit system for commercial drone use in 2010, which has resulted, according to onereport, in the granting of nearly 1500 permits, including 945 in 2013. The result is that while well-capitalized U.S. companies, notably Amazon, seeking to develop or use drones in the U.S. are forced to do their testing in other countries, Canadians are developing high-tech drones and integrating UAV technology into a wide range of industries. The Canadian permit system requires that the applicant explain how he, she or it plans to use the drone and what safety precautions will be taken. Transport Canada reviews the application, consults with the applicant and issues a permit with specific operational limitations for the desired use. The process is reported to take 10 to 20 business days.

Already Canadian drones are being used in agriculture, TV production, law enforcement and real estate photography. While Canadian manned air traffic is only a fraction of that in the U.S., arguably making the risk of collisions between a UAV and human-occupied aircraft much lower, air traffic congestion at Canadian hubs is on a par with the U.S., leading those in the U.S. desiring to use and market drones to encourage such a streamlined system in the U.S. The FAA has said it will be issuing its proposed rules on UAV operations after the first of the year, so prospective drone users are hopeful that the end of the regulatory logjam is in sight. However, it still takes time for proposed rules to evolve into final rules; so, even when some system for commercial drone operations is set up in the U.S., domestic developers will be behind Canadians by a few years on the technology, use and experience curves.