Fans who can’t get their hands on Blue Jays playoff tickets can forget trying to capture the game from a bird’s eye view with their drone.

Following a series of international reports of drones crashing into the stands at sporting events, social media recently lit up with reports that Toronto’s Rogers Centre (Skydome) had implemented a new “no-fly zone” for drones. So it’s worth pointing out that flying an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is forbidden at major sporting events in Canada under Transport Canada’s Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs).

Earlier this month a New York teacher was charged with reckless endangerment and operating a drone in a New York City public park outside of prescribed area after a small drone crashed into empty seats during a second-round women’s match at the U.S. Open. Two days later, a drone reportedly crashed inside the University of Kentucky’s football stadium during a pre-season match. British police officers also seized a dronethat was flown over a Wimbledon tennis match in June.

Under the CARs , recreational drones and certain commercial-purpose drones do not require a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC).  However,  drone use in many public areas is prohibited.

The CARs are set to be overhauled next year to better account for increasing recreational and commercial drone use, i.e. those used for work or research. In the meantime, Transport Canada has introduced temporary exemptions from the SFOC requirement for commercial drones under 25 kg. Transport Canada has alsoreleased proposed regulations pertaining to UAVs, as reported earlier on this blog.

Under the current exemptions, commercial drones under 2 kilograms are exempt from the SFOC requirements and those weighing between 2 and 25 kg are exempt but the pilot must notify Transport Canada of the operation. The exemptions contain many specific conditions of use for the person operating the UAV such as:

  • must be at least 18 years old;
  • must have public liability insurance of at least $100,000;
  • must fly at or below 300 feet above ground level;
  • must operate at least five nautical miles from a built-up area;
  • must be operated within the operator’s visual line-of-sight;
  • must operate at a lateral distance of at least 500 feet from general public, spectators and bystanders (for those weighing between 2 and 25 kg) or at least 100 feet of a person, building or structure (for those weighing fewer than 2 kg); and
  • cannot operate a UAV over an open-air assembly of persons.[1]

Drones weighing fewer than 35 kilograms and operated for recreational purposes are considered “model aircraft”. The exemption conditions do not apply to recreational drones, however, the CARs prohibit flying model aircraft in a manner that is “likely to be hazardous to aviation safety.” Moreover, Transport Canada spells out “Safety Guidelines” for recreational drones on its website, including refraining from: flying closer than 150 metres to a person or building, flying within 9 kilometres of any airport, flying higher than 90 metres above the ground, flying at populated events (including sporting events), flying near moving vehicles, or flying within restricted airspace.[2] Every 56 days Nav Canada updates its Designated Airspace Handbook with a list of designated restricted airspace, which includes airspace over airports, army bases, prisons and Parliament Hill.[3]

Geo-fencing Properties

Enforcement of the Guidelines, especially in residential areas, may not be effective. Reported incidents of “peeping drones” – such as this report of a drone peering into a high-rise condo unit in Vancouver – have  contributed to growing privacy concerns associated with drones buzzing through residential areas and over private property.

 Individuals concerned about invasive drones can register their property or residence with in order to have their addresses included  on no-fly lists shared with drone manufacturers who employ “geo-fencing” technology. Drone manufacturers decide whether to incorporate technology, such as GPS or radio frequency identification, into the firmware of UAVs to either prevent the drone from entering no-fly areas or at least notify the drone operator of those areas.

NoFlyZone is a web-based service that launched earlier this year to collect addresses of people who do not want drones flying over their homes. It lists eight manufacturer partners on its website that participate in its program. The company intends to add selective unblocking features in the future so that the resident can permit certain types of drones – delivery drones, for example – to come onto his or her property.

 Increased Regulation on the Horizon?

Firmware to keep UAVs from entering restricted airspace could eventually become mandatory. Just last month, United States Senator for New York Chuck Schumer announced his intention to introduce a law requiring manufacturers to include geo-fencing technology in their devices that would shut off a drone entering restricted air space.

Further, U.S. state legislatures have been active, especially in the last year, passing UAV laws regarding safety and privacy. Nineteen states passed drone legislation in 2015 so far, according to a new report by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Last month, California legislators passed two bills boosting drone regulation. Assembly Bill 856 expands invasion of privacy laws to include entering the airspace of someone’s land without their permission and attempting record images or sound. Another new law, Senate Bill 142, prohibits flying drones less than 350 feet (106 metres) above private property.

Canada is already set to amend the CARs with new rules next year covering flight, aircraft marking and registration, knowledge testing, minimum age limits, and pilot permits. In addition, British Columbia has asked the federal government for more UAV regulations after incidents of drones interfering with wild forest fire fighting efforts were reported earlier this year, even though the current regulations forbid drones within five nautical miles of wild fires.