Drones: A Licence to Deliver

Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP
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[co-author: Eric Goneau, Articling Student]

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the world to reduce travel, distance from one another and rethink the status quo. This has provided an opportunity for the commercial use of drones (remotely piloted aircraft systems). Companies and governments are beginning to see the practical applications and the efficiencies of drones in an environment where the world continues to move fast, but at a distance. For example, drones are being used to deliver important medical supplies and COVID-19 test kits to remote communities, a task that would be more expensive and time-consuming with traditional aircraft. Drone technology is rapidly improving, therefore the transportation of cargo to precise locations and at great distances is within reach.

While drones are not your grandparent’s “aviation”, they still need to play by the same rules. As companies look to integrate drones into their supply chains and fleet of delivery services, they will need to comply with relevant aviation legislation, notably the Canada Transportation Act (CTA), the Aeronautics Act, and the Canada Aviation Regulations. Drones are classified as aircraft for such regulations and, as such, the drone pilots need to obtain the appropriate licences to operate them for commercial cargo flights.

DRONE LICENSING REQUIREMENTS FOR TRANSPORTATION OF CARGO

As discussed in our January 2019 Blakes Bulletin: Drones: A New Way Forward, drone pilots must obtain certificates for either basic or advanced operations according to Part IX (Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems) of the Canadian Aviation Regulations. Drone pilots must carry a valid drone pilot certificate and only fly drones that are marked and registered with Transport Canada.

In addition to operator certification requirements, if the operator is using the drone to offer a commercial air service, that is a service that is publicly available and for monetary gain, then a “domestic air service licence” issued under the CTA is also required.

If the drone operator is seeking to provide such services within Canada, an application must be made to the Canadian Transportation Agency (Agency) to obtain an air service licence. For the Agency to grant the air service licence, the operator must meet certain criteria, including:

  1. Be a Canadian

  2. Hold a Canadian aviation document in respect to the service being provided

  3. Obtain the prescribed liability insurance coverage in respect to the service being provided

  4. Meet prescribed financial requirements

In obtaining such a licence, the requirement to hold a Canadian aviation document can be satisfied by the drone operator having a Special Flight Operations Certificate (obtained when operating a drone outside of the rules for basic and advanced operations) and current drone registrations but may include any other document required pursuant to the Aeronautics Act. On October 26, 2020, this type of licence was issued for the very first time for a drone cargo delivery services to Indro Robotics Inc.

This is a welcome step forward in the industry as companies begin offering this alternative form of delivery service in Canada. While Indro Robotics Inc. was the first licence holder, it will not be the last!

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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