Long time and expert pilot has cited lack of training, oversight, and drone regulations enforcement as the things that worry him.
Ron Garnett, who has been a pilot for 40 years, often flies his two-seater ultralight plane to the southeast of Saskatoon. According to him, he says drones are more difficult to see midair than seagulls and other birds and it might happen someday that he or another pilot would crash into a drone in the sky.
Drones In the Airspace Make Pilot Nervous
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“They make me nervous primarily because they’re invisible to radar,” Garnett said. “They’re just like loose cannons out there.”
Garnett has had a pilot’s license for 40 years and the ultralight aircraft that he flies is used for commercial aerial photography.
“I’m watching a lot more carefully what else is in the air near me, but there’s very little chance of seeing them,” he said, as he prepared to take off from Corman Air Park, southeast of Saskatoon. “I could see a seagull easier than I could see a drone.”
Transport Canada Rules Aren’t Enforced
Guidelines have been established by Transport Canada for the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for recreational use. More detailed permit criteria for UAVs used for commercial uses and those with weight above 35 kilograms are also laid out.
Any distance less than nine kilometers within the vicinity of any airport or controlled airspace is restricted for drones to fly. Exemptions are, however, allowed for operators of commercial UAV operators who successfully apply for a Special Flight Operations Certificate.
Users for recreational purposes are also asked to keep their aircraft within view and also fly in good weather. They are also asked to avoid populated areas and moving vehicles and to also keep the aircraft below 90 meters from ground level. Pilot Ron Garnett says most unmanned aerial vehicles do not show up on radar and are difficult to spot, and this makes him nervous as he doesn’t know where a drone will show up in the airspace he is flying in.
What worries Garnett is that these rules aren’t being enforced.
“Pilots are all following the rules, and we spend a lot of money on training and that sort of thing.” Garnett said. “Drones are not.”
Drones Are Used to Survey New Bridge Site
Graham Commuter Partners makes use of drones to survey its construction site for the North Commuter Parkway Bridge, and while this area falls into Transport Canada’s nine-kilometer exemption zone around the Saskatoon airport, the company still uses drones in the area and Garnett is concerned about it.
He mentioned its proximity to one of the main runways and he also said the new bridge is directly under a traffic circuit smaller planes make use of during landings and takeoffs.
Dan Willem, project manager of Saskatoon, has gotten permission from Transport Canada to fly its UAV, and so far, it has been doing so safely without hassles.
In an e-mail to CBC, Willem said, “The UAV operator must call the Saskatoon airport control tower no less than 15 minutes prior to launching the UAV and immediately after the UAV has landed.”
Absence of Minimum Operator Qualification Standards
In the case of Special Flight Operations Certificate for UAVS above 35 kilograms, Transport Canada’s regulations state, “The UAV operator remains responsible for ensuring that their personnel have reached a satisfactory level of knowledge, experience, and skill.”
Garnett says, “There’s no training, there’s no licence required, there’s no medicals for the people who operate them.”
He also wants to see the establishment of a registration system to track the owners of drones that fly away or crash.
“If a drone causes some damage and they do recover it, Transport Canada and the police have no way of determining who owns the drone,” Garnett said. “It’s like the wild west out there.”