Province looks to enhance drone rules
P.G. Fire Centre Manager Les Husband and MLA Mike Morris – photo 250News
Prince George, B.C. – During the height of wildfire fighting in B.C. there were two instances when air support had to be grounded because someone was flying a drone in the area. Prince George -Mackenzie MLA Mike Morris has been tasked with trying to find ways to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
In one incident this summer, on August 16th , eight helicopters and five fixed wing aircraft that were supporting firefighting crews on the ground, had to be grounded for more than four hours because someone was flying a drone in the area. “The pilots that are flying the helicopters and the fixed wing aircraft are already in very dangerous situations and it makes it a lot more dangerous when there are unmanned aerial vehicles that are flying in these areas” says Morris””. “Pilots should not have to deal with that, and the men and women who are working on the ground and count on that air support should not have to deal with that, They are in life and death situations as it is, and the possibility that one particular aircraft is prevented from doing something, could risk the lives of the men and women on the ground and that is something very serious.”
Transport Canada is investigating the August 16th incident.
Morris has been looking at the Wildfire Act and see what could be changed to “address the issues a little more rigorously than we currently can.” Morris says that review is proceeding quite well and he expects to have it completed this fall.
Drone use is covered by federal regulations but Morris says all drone operators need to be aware of the rules that govern them and the severe consequences for not following the rules.
Federal regulations explicitly restrict the use of drones near wildfires. All wildfires are automatically considered to be flight restricted zones according to the Federal Canadian Aviation regulations. That restriction is within 5 nautical miles of a fire, and to an altitude of 3,000 feet above ground level. The current maximum fine for an infraction is $25 thousand dollars and up to 18 months in jail.
“The B.C. Government’s message to these people ( drone operators) is really simple” says Morris “The presence of a drone near an active wildfire is illegal, and we have a zero tolerance policy towards people who engage in this sort of activity.”
Morris says the message also has to be sent to boaters who try to get a close up look at air tankers and choppers that are trying to scoop up water from lakes near active wildfires. “This is extremely dangerous and interferes with the BC Wildfire Service ability to battle wildfires since an air tanker pilot cannot refill the air crafts tanks when a boat in the flight path.”
The Province will be exploring heavy penalties for boaters wo intentionally or unintentionally interferes with wildfire responses.
The Province has a four point plan to stop the illegal and dangerous use of drones with tough new rules and a public awareness campaign.
- review existing enforcement provisions under Transport Canada regulations, the Wildfire Act and other Provincial Legislation
- explore legislative and regulatory changes to strengthen existing provisions and penalties under provincial legislation in the spring of 2016.
- Launch a public awareness campaign directed at stores that sell unmanned aerial vehicles to inform drone buyers of their legal obligations
- transport Canada is currently reviewing its legislative requirements related to drone use.
Morris says the Province has made a submission to the Federal Government that advocates for stronger regulations addressing a number of key themes, including the safe operations of drones, personal privacy, registration of drones, certification of all drone operators and public awareness.
“We would like to see stiffer penalties applied where regulations governing the use of drones have been violated.”
Morris says the Province is working closely with the Federal government on this issue and is encouraging the Federal government to accelerate this work.