Winnipeg police are reminding drone owners that the sky isn’t the only limit when flying unmanned air vehicles (UAV), after a drone reportedly flew within 25 metres of a commercial passenger plane at the James Richardson International Airport on Saturday.
Personnel from Nav Canada working at the airport contacted police at about 2:45 p.m. on Saturday, after the pilot of the plane observed the drone flying nearby. The plane was flying at an altitude of about 900 metres and was able to land safely without incident.
Const. Rob Carver of the Winnipeg Police Service said the operator of the UAV is believed to have been near the University of Manitoba at the time of the incident. Along with Nav Canada, police surveyed the area but were unable to locate the UAV or the operator.
Carver could not comment on the motive of the operator, or whether the drone’s presence in the flight path was intentional.
“Whoever was operating this UAV put it up into a flight path. This wasn’t somebody taking pictures of a baseball diamond,” said Carver. “Not only does it contravene all sorts of Transport Canada rules and regulations regarding UAVs, a slight error could have put this into collision with the aircraft, which could have been catastrophic.”
While Carver said this is the first time a UAV has been reported in a plane’s flight path in Winnipeg, these kinds of incidents are becoming increasingly common in Canada and across the globe, prompting governments around the world to consider new regulations. Last year, for instance, the United States’ Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) brought in a rule requiring all owners of small unmanned aircraft to register online. In May, the European Aviation Safety Agency announced a new task force to examine the risk of collisions between drones and aircraft.
According to Transport Canada, Canadian drone operators can expect beefed-up rules here, too.
In 2015, the organization announced its intention to introduce regulatory requirements for UAVs weighing 25 kilograms or less that are operated within visual line-of-sight. Once introduced, Transport Canada said the proposed amendments will establish classifications of UAVs, clarify terminology, establish marking and registration requirements, address personnel licensing and training and create flight rules. Proposed changes also include knowledge testing, minimum age limits, and pilot permits for certain UAV operations.
On Saturday, the Toronto Star reported federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau will detail the proposed regulations at a news conference scheduled for Monday Ottawa.
However, even with new regulations, Carver said enforcement is easier said than done.
“Unless we can find the actual operator on the ground, law enforcement, including Winnipeg police, have no ability to get a drone out of the air,” he said. “We can’t chase them. It’s not safe, and it wouldn’t be safe for our helicopter.”
For now, Winnipeg police remind drone owners commercial UAV operators must be in possession of a valid Special Flight Operations Certificate and are required to comply with its restrictions. The Winnipeg Police Service may take enforcement action regarding either personal or commercial UAV operations within the City of Winnipeg, in co-operation with Transport Canada.
Anyone with information regarding Saturday’s incident is asked to call 204-986-622 or Crime Stoppers at 204-786-8477.