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New rules for drones: Pilot certificates, avoiding airports — and no drunk droning

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The federal government has adopted strict new regulations to govern the use of drones in Canadian airspace — prohibiting them from flying near airports and emergency scenes and ensuring that those operating them aren’t drunk or high on drugs.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau is set to formally announce the new rules for remotely piloted aircraft systems at a news conference in Montreal on Wednesday.

A copy of the new regulations obtained by CBC News reveals that they are comprehensive. They require that drones be registered and that operators of larger drones be certified. The regulations also state who can operate them, where they can fly and what they can carry.

For example, the regulations spell out that drones will not be allowed to carry living things and would require a special certificate to transport things like explosives, weapons or ammunition.

The new regulations will apply to drones that weigh more than 55 pounds. Most of the changes are scheduled to go into effect June 1.

Garneau’s announcement comes as the presence of drones near the U.K.’s Gatwick Airport before Christmas led to chaos. Hundreds of flights were cancelled because of the threat of drones colliding with aircraft, disrupting the travel plans of more than 100,000 passengers.

Passengers wait in line a queue in departures at Heathrow Airport in London, Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. London’s Heathrow Airport briefly halted departing flights on Tuesday after a reported drone sighting – a development that came just three weeks after multiple reports of drone sightings caused travel chaos at nearby Gatwick Airport. (Yui Mok/PA/Associated Press)

On Tuesday, the sighting of a drone disrupted flights for about an hour at Heathrow, the U.K.’s busiest airport.

Canada has not been immune. In October 2017, a small drone collided with a passenger plane in the skies above Jean Lesage airport in Quebec City, resulting in minor damage. Nobody was hurt. At the time, Garneau described it as the first collision in Canada between a drone and a commercial aircraft.

In June 2017, Garneau told the Montreal Gazette that the prospect of a drone colliding with an aircraft was “the kind of nightmare scenario that keeps me up at night.”

The government introduced interim rules in 2017 to govern drones while it worked on the final regulations. The regulations were adopted by cabinet just before Christmas — around the same time drone sightings were disrupting Gatwick flights.

The overriding theme in the new regulations is the need to prohibit the operation of drones “in such a reckless or negligent manner as to endanger or be likely to endanger aviation safety or the safety of any person.”

Nobody can be a registered owner of a drone unless they are at least 14 years old and a citizen or permanent resident of Canada. Corporations and federal, municipal or provincial governments can also own drones.

Unless they have a special certificate permitting them to do so, drone operators will have to keep their drones in their visual line of sight at all times. They won’t be allowed to fly them too close to airports, heliports or in controlled airspace and they will have to give way to aircraft, airships, gliders and balloons.

With the exception of police, rescue and firefighting operations, nobody will be allowed to fly a drone over or within a security perimeter set up by officials in response to an emergency. That could prohibit news organizations from using drones equipped with cameras to get aerial footage of crimes, disasters or terrorist attacks.

Drinking alcohol within 12 hours of being on a drone flight crew is prohibited, as is being “under the influence of alcohol” or “any drug that impairs the person’s faculties to the extent that aviation safety or the safety of any person is endangered or likely to be endangered.”

The rules also prohibit anyone from operating a drone or taking part in a drone flight crew when they are tired or otherwise unable to properly perform their duties.

No one will be allowed to fly a drone when the weather conditions prevent seeing the drone at all times, or when frost, ice or snow are stuck to the drone. Those who want to fly a drone at night will need special lights.

Those who want to fly them over a concert or sporting event will need a special flight operations certificate. It will also take a special flight operations certificate for a drone to transport things like explosives, weapons, ammunition, or flammable or biohazardous material.

There will be two levels of pilot certificate to operate a drone. Those with a basic certificate will have to be at least 14 years old and pass a test. However, the regulations also provide for someone under 14 to operate a drone if supervised by someone 14 or older who has a certificate.

Those with advanced operations certificates will get to fly closer to airports and controlled airspace. They will have to be at least 16 years old and pass an exam and a flight review.

Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca

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Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs bought by U.S. company for $265M

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Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been bought by Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. for $256 million, or $200 million US.

The acquisition was announced Monday. 

Dave Kroetsch, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aeryon Labs, says not much will change in the foreseeable future.

“The Waterloo operations of Aeryon Labs will actually continue as they did yesterday with manufacturing, engineering and all the functions staying intact in Waterloo and ultimately, we see growing,” he said.

“The business here is very valuable to FLIR and our ability to sell internationally is a key piece of keeping these components of the business here in Canada.”

Aeroyn Labs builds high-performance drones that are sold to a variety of customers including military, police services and commercial businesses. The drones can provide high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The drones already include cameras and thermal technology from FLIR. Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, said acquiring Aeryon Labs is part of the company’s strategy to move beyond sensors “to the development of complete solutions that save lives and livelihoods.”

‘A piece of a bigger solution’

Kroetsch said this is a good way for the company to grow into something bigger.

“We see the business evolving in much the direction our business has been headed over the last couple of years. And that’s moving beyond the drone as a product in and of itself as a drone as a piece of a bigger solution,” he said.

For example, FLIR bought a drone company that builds smaller drones that look like little helicopters.

“We can imagine integrating those with our drones, perhaps having ours carry their drones and drop them off,” he said.

FLIR also does border security systems, which Kroetsch says could use the drones to allow border agents to look over a hill where there have been issues.

“We see the opportunity there as something that we never could have done on our own but being involved with and part of a larger company that’s already providing these solutions today gives us access not only to these great applications, but also to some fantastic technologies,” he said.

Aeryon Labs has done a lot of work during emergency disasters, including in Philippines after Typhoon Hagupit in 2014, Ecuador after an earthquake in 2016 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.

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Inuvik infrastructure may not be ready for climate change, says study

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The Arctic is expected to get warmer and wetter by the end of this century and new research says that could mean trouble for infrastructure in Inuvik.

The study from Global Water Futures looked at how climate change could impact Havipak Creek — which crosses the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. — and it predicts some major water changes.

“They were quite distressing,” John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures and the study’s lead author, said of the findings.

Researchers used a climate model and a hydrological model to predict future weather and climate patterns in the region. They also looked at data gathered from 1960 to the present. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate — which Pomeroy said they are on track to do — the study projects the region will be 6.1 C warmer by 2099 and precipitation, particularly rain, will increase by almost 40 per cent.

The study also found that the spring flood will be earlier and twice as large, and the permafrost will thaw an additional 25 centimetres. While the soil is expected to be wetter early in the summer, the study said it will be drier in late summer, meaning a higher risk of wildfires.

John Pomeroy is the director of Global Water Futures. (Erin Collins/CBC)

“The model’s painting kind of a different world than we’re living in right now for the Mackenzie Delta region,” Pomeroy said.

He noted these changes are not only expected for Havipak Creek, but also for “many, many creeks along the northern part of the Dempster [Highway].”

Pomeroy said the deeper permafrost thaw and a bigger spring flood could pose challenges for buildings, roads, culverts and crossings in the area that were designed with the 20th century climate in mind.

He said the projected growth of the snowpack and the spring flood are “of grave concern because that’s what washes out the Dempster [Highway] and damages infrastructure in the area.”

Culverts and bridges may have to be adjusted to allow room for greater stream flows, Pomeroy said. And building foundations that are dependent upon the ground staying frozen will have to be reinforced or redesigned.

Pomeroy said the ultimate solution is for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This study is the future we’re heading for, but it’s not the future we necessarily have if we can find a way to reduce those gases,” he said.  

“It’d be far smarter to get those emissions under control than to pay the terrible expenses for infrastructure and endangered safety of humans and destroyed ecosystems.”

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DFO tries to allay fishermen’s fears that protected area would impact livelihood

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The two-lane highway along Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore is dotted with dozens of signs declaring “No Marine Protected Area Here!”

It’s a sign, literally, of organized opposition to a proposed 2,000-square-kilometre marine protected area.

The Eastern Shore Islands area is the first coastal candidate in Canada with an active inshore commercial fishery, albeit a small one with just 150 lobster fishermen. Still, they are a mainstay of the local economy and leading the opposition.

The fishermen fear a marine protected area, or MPA, would automatically lead to so-called no-take zones, barring industrial activities like harvesting.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is moving to put those fears at rest.

“We will not be making a recommendation for there to be a zone of high protection within the MPA,” said Wendy Williams, director of DFO Maritimes Oceans Management.

A “No Marine Protected Area Here!” sign is seen along Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore. (Robert Short/CBC)

Last week, the department presented the results of a draft risk assessment to an advisory committee established to recommend what should or should not be allowed inside Eastern Shore Islands.

The committee was created after the department declared the unspoiled archipelago of hundreds of islands an area of interest. It is the first step on the road to designation as a marine protected area under the federal Oceans Act.

The risk assessment concluded the lobster fishery would not harm the kelp beds, eel grass and cod nursery the federal government wants to protect.

“The predominant activity that takes place there is the lobster fishery. It’s a low-impact fishery. It only operates two months a year, so we feel it’s not necessary to have a no-take,” Williams said in an interview.

“We talked to the advisory committee about that and what we heard and unanimously around the table is that they felt the same way. So in our design going forward we will not be incorporating a no-take zone.”

Fishermen seek assurances

But fisherman Peter Connors is not declaring victory.

“You have to remember this is deathbed conversion,” he said.

As president of the Eastern Shore Fishermen’s Protective Association, Connors represents the 150 active lobster fishermen in the area.

He does not trust DFO and is seeking some sort of legally binding commitment from federal Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson honouring Williams’s promise.

As president of the Eastern Shore Fishermen’s Protective Association, Peter Connors represents the 150 active lobster fishermen in the area. (Robert Short/CBC)

“I want to know the mechanism that he’s going to use and just how he intends to secure that for future generations,” said Connors. “I don’t want a trust me proposition and I don’t want a temporary reprieve … just because they are facing a lot of opposition now.”

Connors acknowledged a marine protected area on the Eastern Shore could help “Canada’s brand” from a marketing perspective. The country has committed to protecting 10 per cent of its ocean by 2020.

‘Give and take’

Environmentalists have watched in frustration as opposition to Eastern Shore Islands galvanized over the prospect of no-take zones.

Susanna Fuller, senior projects manager for conservation organization Oceans North, urged DFO to eliminate no-take zones from the discussion last year.

“Since it has been such an issue of contention, we are hoping that this gives the community and the fishermen a sense that they are being heard,” said Fuller.

“For this process to go forward there needs to be some give and take.”

While DFO has decided to allow unrestricted lobster fishing inside Eastern Shore Islands, Williams said no precedent has been set.

“Every MPA is different. If people have their expectations raised in any particular way because of what we’re looking at now for this MPA, they really shouldn’t. Everything is unique and we need to look at it that way,” she said.

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