Canada reminds drone pilots of the rules around wildfires

Drone pilots rules wildfires

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And that is unfortunately very true these days in the Canadian province of British Columbia, where a huge amount of fires have been raging. Now, Transport Canada has issued a statement reminding drone pilots to stay clear, and follow all the rules so as not to interfere with operations near wildfires.

We get it. Honestly, we can see why someone with a drone might want to put it up in the air and capture a raging wildfire. But there are multiple reasons why this is a really bad idea, which could end with serious charges (and massive fines).

So we’ll start by simply saying: Resist the urge, and keep the drone on the ground.

BC wildfires still raging

There are wildfires every year in British Columbia, but this year has been pretty crazy. The government of BC maintains a wildfire dashboard, which shows – pretty much in real time – what the situation is like in the province. And right now? It’s not good:

Frame grab from BC wildfire dashboard

There are a lot of wildfires right now

According to the dashboard, a total of 1,319 fires have broken out this year, with the majority occurring over the past month or so. As of the time of this post, there were 254 active wildfires in the province, an increase of 23 over the last two days.

And, of course, there are crews on the ground – and in the air – trying to put them out.

Transport Canada: Drone pilots must obey rules around wildfires

Canada’s regulator in this area, Transport Canada, has issued a new statement specifically to remind pilots about the rules for drones around active wildfires. And we can boil it down to this: Don’t fly. Here’s some info from the TC statement:

This Civil Aviation Safety Alert (CASA) is a reminder to Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) pilots that airspace around and over a forest fire is closed to all aircraft not directly involved in firefighting operations.

The background

Transport Canada’s alert also delves into the background, including the relevant regs:

Disrupting air traffic around wildfires interferes with the safe and effective suppression of wildfires and presents a significant safety risk to firefighters, emergency personnel, and the general public. While drones can be used by emergency response teams for fire suppression, unauthorized drone use near wildfires increases the likelihood of a midair collision with firefighting aircraft, forcing response teams to ground their operations and putting lives at risk. According to Section 601.15 of the Canadian Aviation Regulations, the airspace surrounding wildfires is restricted to specialty air services involved in wildfire response. No person shall operate an aircraft, including drones, over a wildfire or any area located within 5 nautical miles (9.3 kilometers) of a wildfire at an altitude of less than 3,000 feet above ground level.

Big fines

And, of course, there are penalties – fines of up to $100,000 and/or prison terms for those flying a drone that interferes with wildfire response. That’s a pretty big risk to take – and ignorance of the law is never an excuse. It’s up to the Pilot-in-Command to be aware of restricted and controlled airspace. Transport Canada says, “Prior to flying a drone in the summer months, ensure that there are no smoke plumes or active forest fires within five nautical miles.”

The US also takes this seriously

As we’ve reported before, this is also an issue in the United States. And the US West Coast is no stranger to wildfires. As we were writing this post, the @FAADroneZone account Tweeted its own warning:

Drone pilots must follow Airspace rules for wildfires

Despite these advisories and PSAs, some pilots still aren’t getting the message. We reported earlier on two incidents where drones interfered with wildfire operations.

People fighting wildfires are carrying out a dangerous, even life-threatening task. Don’t make it even more difficult and dangerous by messing around with a drone anywhere near a wildfire. Follow the rules – or be prepared to pay the consequences.

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