Drones have become increasingly popular in recent years, and although they can be a lot of fun and used for professional services, drones can also pose serious risk to STARS patients, crews and aircraft if they’re being operated in an unsafe manner.

There are several rules and regulations in place regarding where and how a drone can be flown. Transport Canada requires drone pilots to be licensed in order to legally and safely operate.

The airspace in major Canadian cities is controlled 24 hours a day under Transport Canada rules. There are also regulations that must be followed in uncontrolled airspace. Whether they are flying an airplane, helicopter, glider, or drone, pilots have a responsibility to keep everyone safe. Given that drones can be quite small and hard to spot in the air, extra caution is required to ensure safe skies for everyone.

“Drones can pose a threat to a STARS aircraft because pilots don’t know where drones are headed in the air space, and drones are too small to register,” said Phil Haworth, STARS captain pilot. “When we spot a threat in the air, we have to change our flight path to keep everyone safe.”

Drones can have a real-life impact on STARS missions where minutes matter and crew and patient safety

is paramount. Having to change the flight path of an aircraft en route to a scene call or while transporting a patient can have significant repercussions.

“Safety is one of our core values at STARS. When an unregistered drone is flying in controlled airspace, a STARS helicopter may be grounded until the owner of the drone is found and the drone is confirmed to be on the ground,” said Haworth.

An unregistered drone poses many risks, such as the speed at which the drone is operating. This could result in damage to a STARS aircraft or worse. A STARS helicopter usually flies at approx. 230 kph or more, and something as small as a drone could have a catastrophic impact.

If drone pilots want to fly their aircraft in controlled air space, they must first obtain a drone pilot certificate for advanced operations. This includes registering the aircraft with Transport Canada, passing and exam, and a flight review. Only then can a drone pilot seek permission to operate within controlled airspace.

There are fines and/or jail time for individuals and corporations who break the rules while flying drones. It’s imperative to operate within Transport Canada regulations, so other aircraft can safely operate and individuals and businesses can take advantage of the many benefits that drone technology offers.