The Forwarder Online Magazine

Delivered By Drone

The sky’s the limit when it comes to the impact on product delivery by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones. Aside from the introduction of useable technology, freight forwarders must also wait for Transport Canada to establish regulations to ensure that aerial cargo lanes remain safe and secure.

In her opening remarks, Heather Devine, partner in the Toronto law firm Isaacs & Co., stressed that when drones are used for delivering goods, executives and firms must understand the legal implications involved. One important issue is ensuring that the drone carrier possesses a valid Transport Canada Special Flight Operation Certificate (SFOC). As well, other regulations will be required for different cargo items not to mention basic issues related to controlling the size and types of drones. Public safety will be a key concern since drones will fly near existing conventional airports, highways, canals, rivers, bridges etc. not to mention populated urban areas.

Borden Ladner Gervais lawyer Katherine Ayre, moderating the panel, reminded the audience that regulatory decisions will become the basis for future liability, insurance and legal concerns. She urged the freight forwarding community to have proper insurance in place since insurers may have different perspectives on coverage.

As well, Ayre noted that Walmart and Amazon plan to deploy indoor drones in distribution centres that can read product barcodes and manage inventory faster and more safely than employees.

In addition, the freight forwarding community will need to be aware of customs and cross-border traffic not to mention potential criminal activities involving illegal drugs and other contraband. Drone operators may also face complaints from citizens complaining that camera-carrying drones are flying over their backyards while they are sunbathing.

A major challenge facing regulators is defining BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight). It enables pilots of traditional planes to “see and avoid” other aircraft. But since drones are pilotless, there will be a new level of difficulty and complexity in spotting other aircraft. Possible solutions include a ground-based network of active sensors, utilizing onboard sensors, or subscribing to a traffic management platform.

In his presentation, Ryan Coates, Manager of Policy, Regulations and Stakeholder Engagement at Transport Canada, outlined a range of potential risks resulting from a wider range of users of drone deliveries. He cites the recent example of the Moose Cree First Nation partnering with Drone Delivery Canada to consider year-round delivery of food, medicine and other supplies. It is located 2.5 kilometres from Moosonee Ontario on an island in James Bay with no easy link to the mainland. Currently, goods are delivered by barge in the summer, by trucks over ice roads in the winter and by helicopter between seasons.

With the coming of drones, Coates believes that such isolated indigenous settlements across Canada will in fact become easier to serve since they are surrounded with few, if any, obstacles.

As well, thanks to advanced parachute technology, drones could simply drop their loads from above without having to touch down.

Finally, the two lawyers agreed that Transport Canada is expeditiously introducing drone regulations to ensure the continued safety and security of Canadian airspace.