Is Canada leading the way for commercial BVLOS use?

Last month, in our article on pandemic-driven drone innovations, we mentioned that Transport Canada had authorized a coalition of companies to deliver medical supplies to First Nation communities.

Since two of these delivery projects were recently confirmed to have started, now is a good time to think about these use cases, as well as other beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) developments in Canada. 

Can I get a recap of the First Nations delivery projects?

Sure.

Drone Delivery Canada (DDC), with the help of its partners Air Canada and the Pontiac Group, secured several contracts to provide drone solutions for the delivery of medical supplies, such as personal protection equipment (PPE), hygiene kits, test kits, and test swabs to the Beausoleil First Nation (BFN) and Georgina Island First Nation (GIFN), among other First Nation communities.

Under terms of the contract with the BFN, GlobalMedic is deploying DDC’s drone logistics system to enable a defined two-way delivery flight route to and from the BFN mainland and the BFN Christian Island. DDC’s drone system consists of DDC’s Sparrow drone, DroneSpotTM takeoff and landing zones, and FLYTE software system. DDC’s agreement with the GIFN seems to be similar.

How long have the projects been going on?

Although BVLOS approval was issued by Canadian authorities, on June 4, it’s taken some time to get things up and running.

As of Oct. 21, according to DDC CEO Mike Zahra, the BFN operations had been going on for several weeks, and the GIFN deliveries had only recently begun. 

Is this a PR stunt, or does it have long-term potential?

According to DDC’s press statement, Indigenous Services Canada, the sponsor of the GIFN contract, is using the project as a proof of concept. Indnigenous Services Canaada would like to continue to use drone delivery as a way to limit person-to-person contact during the pandemic, while maintaining the provision of COVID-related medical supplies. 

 

Recent Article: BVLOS Waiver – Here’s What You Need to Know

 

Beyond that, there seems to be movement towards normalizing BVLOS operations in Canadian airspace, which would create a host of opportunities that extend beyond the pandemic. 

For instance, in October, Transport Canada authorized MVT Geo-Solutions, a geo-environmental contractor, to conduct BVLOS operations in uncontrolled airspace in Alma, Quebec.

Under the terms of the Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) issued, MVG Geo-Solutions will conduct power line inspections using the detect-and-avoid (DAA) technology supplied by Iris Automation, a safety avionics technology company.

It’s possible that the flight missions that come from this SFOC could open the door to more complex missions in the future such as infrastructure inspections, mapping, delivery solutions, agriculture data collection, and emergency response.

So how quickly will BVLOS take off in Canada?

Not as quickly as drone operators would like.

The amount of time it will take for BVLOS to become normalized in Canada depends how long it takes for stakeholders to reach a consensus on what is best for the country. And, as is the case with most regulatory debates, this could take awhile.

For instance, Transport Canada proposed allowing drones of up to 650 kilograms to be operated BVLOS in areas with a population density of less than 25 people per square kilometer.

Meanwhile, both the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association and the Ultralight Pilots Association of Canada oppose the proposal, claiming it relies too much on the self-regulation of the drone industry and that population density is an irrelevant measure of the potential for airspace conflicts. 

Disagreements aside, this proposal, along with recent BVLOS use cases, is a testament to Transport Canada’s capacity, resources and appetite to embrace advanced UAS solutions. Transport Canada seems to have taken a relatively progressive stance on UAS technology, and BVLOS operations in particular, so it will be interesting to see how things unfold in 2021.

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn is an experienced management professional who is currently pursuing her master’s in Data, Economics, and Development Policy at MIT while serving as principal consultant at Consult92.

Miriam developed a love for UAS technology when she served as operations manager at Consortiq. Today, having completed over 30 successful projects in 10 countries, she loves solving a wide variety of logistical, technical, and cultural challenges for her clients so that they can focus on what care about most.

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