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No-drone zones cover much of Greater Victoria, Canada

Buzzing drones are being spotted a lot more often these days by helicopter pilots flying routes between the capital region and the Lower Mainland.

“It is a concern,” says Brendan McCormick, chief pilot for Helijet International Inc., which uses the Camel Point helipad in James Bay.

He estimates pilots are seeing drones every five to six weeks, but there haven’t been any significant close calls — although even a sighting is cause for concern. “That’s a lot, compared to never before,” McCormick says.

Signs were posted this week around Victoria’s Inner Harbour warning of a nine-kilometre no-drone zone. The harbour’s busy water-based airport is used by Harbour Air and Kenmore Air.

At this point, the zone is a guideline to ensure drones do not endanger aircraft. Anyone doing so can face fines of up to $25,000 and possibly prison time under the federal Aeronautics Act.

Transport Canada is recommending drones stay below

90 metres and at least 150 metres away from people, buildings or vehicles.

The federal agency is crafting new rules for drone users. Proposals are expected to be ready for public comment by spring 2017. One idea is to eliminate distinctions between recreational and commercial drones.

At this time, special flight operation certificates are required for drones used for work or research.

For now, the nine-kilometre zone leaves little room to fly drones in the region, as local airports include Victoria International Airport, Victoria Harbour aerodrome, Camel Point and the Royal Jubilee and Victoria General hospitals, which both have helicopter pads.

“[Any impact with a drone] could have consequences ranging from minor, negligible, all the way up to potentially catastrophic if it struck the aircraft just right,” McCormick said. “At the very least, it is a distraction and could have consequences as well. I’m not sure that people truly understand what the implications are.”

Helijet pilots have seen drones within a quarter to half a mile of their aircraft, closer than another aircraft would get, he said.

McCormick is recommending that drones be required to carry equipment that would allow planes and air traffic control to identify them.

On the plus side, the number of drone operators with special flight certificates is growing, he said. These operators follow required safety procedures, and get needed permissions to fly in certain areas so that pilots can look out for them.

Full story: The Colonist

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