Our documents reveal Air Force’s disregard for civilian oversight of drones in Canada

Image captured by a German drone's onboard camera moments before its near collision with a commercial jet carrying 100 passengers over Afghanistan.

 

The Royal Canadian Air Force acknowledges there are significant “challenges” to operating Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in Canadian airspace, but dismisses the need to ask for permission from civilian oversight, according to documents obtained by the Rideau Institute (Ceasefire.ca’s parent group) and reported on recently in the Ottawa Citizen (David Pugliese, “RCAF says it sets the rules for drone flights over Canada,” Ottawa Citizen, 16 August 2013):

Canada’s air force has determined that unlike its counterparts in the U.S. and Europe, it does not need approval from civilian aviation agencies to fly drones in domestic airspace and it will operate those unmanned planes as it sees fit…

According to documents obtained by the Rideau Institute, “DND is the legal regulator for all military aircraft in Canada and does not require any [Transport Canada] or NAV Canada approval to operate a UAV in Canadian domestic airspace.” The documents also say that all operational restrictions on DND’s ability to operate the drones in Canadian airspace would be entirely “self-imposed.”

The European Aviation Safety Agency has ruled that the long-range UAVs purchased for more than $1 billion by the German military will not be allowed to fly over Europe, as the drones are not equipped with sufficient collision-avoidance systems.

The absence of collision-avoidance systems may have contributed to at least one of two significant accidents involving German UAVs in Afghanistan, videos of which are circulating the internet.

One video shows a German military drone nearly colliding with a civilian passenger jet over Kabul, Afghanistan.

 

Another video shows German soldiers in Afghanistan sprinting away from an out-of-control Heron UAV that stopped only once it crashed into a military transport plane.

The Heron is the same type of drone the Canadian military used in Afghanistan.

Capt. Holly-Anne Brown of the RCAF notes that “while aerospace firms are working on a sense and avoid system for UAVs, [it] is not considered an essential requirement for the Canadian Military’s planned purchase.”

Steven Staples, however, says the debate over German drones in Europe raises significant concerns about drone safety in Canada.  “It’s one thing to be flying a drone over the desert in Afghanistan but it’s something else to fly them over Ottawa or Toronto,” said Staples, adding that a deficiency in civilian safety oversight may result in accidents in the future.

Substantiating this concern, Staples cites a 2011 military flight-safety report that acknowledges 10 UAV crashes between 2007 and 2010, mostly the result of engine failure.

Since the early 2000s, there have been 42 accidents involving Canadian Forces drones.

An out-of-control German drone crashed into another military aircraft in Afghanistan.

 

Photo Credit: The Daily Mail

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