Last July, B.C. Wildfire Service had its hands more than full with one of the very worst wildfire seasons on record. And so you can imagine crews’ frustration when they had to half efforts to contain a blaze near Wilson Creek because someone was flying a drone near the flames.
"A helicopter that was supporting ground crews was grounded," reads a statement issued by the B.C. ministry of forests, lands, natural resource operations and rural development. "Additional firefighting aircraft working on other fires in the area had to be diverted from their flight paths to avoid the airspace around Little Wilson Lake area."
As B.C. enters its 2019 wildfire season, new rules for drone operators are set to take effect across the country.
“Drones are aircraft—which makes you a pilot,” begins an introduction to the incoming regulations at Transport Canada’s website.
The most significant changes concern requirements people will now have to meet before they put a drone in the sky.
As of June 1, drone owners will have to register any flying vehicle that weighs more than 250 grams. They’ll also have to complete a written test before they are allowed to put their drones in the sky.
“Drone pilots must carry a valid drone pilot certificate and only fly drones that are marked and registered,” Transport Canada’s website reads.
It emphasizes a number of existing regulations. Among them, that drone operators must keep their vehicles within sight at all times, that they cannot fly higher than 122 metres, and that they must keep their drones at least 30 metres away from bystanders.
There’s also a 5.6 kilometre buffer around airports that drone pilots must adhere too, as well as a 1.9 kilometre buffer around heliports.
Individuals who are caught flying without a drone-pilot certificate can be fined $1,000. There’s also a $1,000 fine for failing to register a drone and $1,000 fines for breaking the rules on where drones are allowed to fly. If a pilot is found to have put someone in danger, the fine is $3,000.
Transport Canada’s website notes there are many additional regulations that apply to specific circumstances of drone operations. For example, each province’s privacy laws and trespassing acts.
“When you fly your drone, you’re sharing the skies with other drones and aircraft,” the website states. “Before you fly, understand the rules you must follow and review our safety tips.”