In a wide range of industries across North America, drones and drone technology are being embraced for commercial purposes. The Federal Aviation Administration in the United States estimates that millions of recreational drones will be in the air over the next few years, and it’s only a matter of time before commercial drones become commonplace too. For example, many farmers are currently using drones to detect crop disease and identify where to apply pesticides. Oil and gas companies are also making use of the eyes in the sky for pipeline surveillance. And now, the practice of using drones/unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the construction and real estate industries is becoming increasingly popular. Some companies are using drones to monitor construction crews and track the pace of construction projects, while various real estate agencies are using drone technology and video recording to market, maintain and inspect properties for sale. Using drone technology for commercial purposes, however, is not without its risks. Last Fall the Federal Aviation Administration in the United States proposed a $1.9-million fine on an aerial photography firm for unauthorized drone flights. In Canada, a man from Montreal was fined $1,000 for using his drone on behalf of a real estate agent. Regulators on both sides of the border have begun to set parameters around the use of these flying robots, but for many users the regulations remain unclear. We’ll continue to monitor regulatory developments in this rapidly growing field over the coming months, and we’ll keep you informed through a series of articles as new issues arise. In the meantime, if you’re looking to invest in drone technology for commercial purposes, here’s a brief overview of the five things you should know before taking off:

1) You may need to apply for a special flight operations certificate.

If your drone is over thirty-five (35) kg (77.2 lbs) or is being used for commercial purposes that are not covered by exemption conditions, you must apply for a free-of-charge Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) from the Minister of Transport. This certificate outlines the conditions under which a flight may be operated and typically will authorize flight for a predetermined purpose in a specific geographical area.

2) You must know the regulations that apply to your use.

Unmanned aircraft in Canada are regulated based on purpose and weight. Civilian use of drones is regulated by Transport Canada through the Aeronautics Act and the Canadian Aviation Regulations(CAR). Some recreational flying of drones under thirty-five (35) kg requires no special Transport Canada permit; however, commercial users typically need an SFOC. There are conditions under which commercial drones may be exempt from requiring a permit. Always make sure you know which rules apply to your flight before taking off.

3) You must ensure that you are insured.

Your general insurance policies likely do not cover aviation activity, so before taking off you should be sure to acquire sufficient liability insurance. Transport Canada requires that a person operating under an exemption must have at least $100,000 in liability insurance coverage. Failure to do so could result in penalties. Commercial users must also have adequate insurance as a condition of the SFOC.

4) You must be aware of your surroundings.

Before conducting a fly-by of your commercial property or construction site, consider whether your location is appropriate for flying a drone. Some properties may simply not be suitable for drone use. These could include densely populated areas, properties close to airspace, and properties close to busy or crowded public areas.

5) You must be familiar with applicable statutes that restrict drone use in your region.

In addition to the Criminal Code, there are other laws and provincial statutes that may apply to commercial and private drone users, including trespassing and privacy laws. If you are considering using a drone in Canada you should be aware of the Private Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) and how it may apply to your intended use. Some flights might require consent depending on the type of personal information that may be collected or shared about individuals in the process. Transport Canada is expected to implement new regulations within the year. Always be sure you are up-to-date on these regulations and how they apply to you and your drone to avoid being grounded by the authorities. When in doubt, consider obtaining legal advice to help you smoothly navigate this new, evolving arena.