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Drones: This year’s hot gift a safety headache for regulators

David Jennings, left, and Pete May of One2One Photography operate a drone as it lifts off near a park in south Kitchener. Peter Lee, Record staff

Taking Off

Story by: Catherine Thompson, The Kitchener-Waterloo Record

WATERLOO REGION — They’re one of the hottest Christmas gifts this year, but drones are causing big headaches as regulators try to draft rules fast enough to keep up with a big influx of the them.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates aviation in the United States, predicts one million drones will be sold south of the border this Christmas season.

While no one expects anywhere near that number to be sold in Canada, authorities are gearing up for a surge of people who snap up the devices as a great holiday gift.

“Drones are a popular portion of our toys business and they’re touted to be best gifts this holiday,” says Elliott Chun, Best Buy Canada’s communications manager.

Hundreds of models are available. At Best Buy in Waterloo, the windows are plastered with drone photos, and you can walk in and pick up a drone for $200. Online, you can buy one of more than two dozen models, ranging in price from $120 to $4,500.

They appeal to everyone from hobbyists “who just like to fly and/or race” to professionals wanting top-quality equipment, Chun says.

Because anyone can walk into a store and buy one, or order one online, and there’s no requirement to get a licence or register the devices, Canadian regulators admit they have no idea how many drones are out there already.

That easy access means many of the people who pick up a drone at Best Buy or Staples may not realize what the risks are, and may not be aware there are regulations around how to fly them. They may not be looking out for potentially deadly obstacles such as hydro lines.

Drones are becoming more visible in Waterloo Region. Last month, a plane taking off from the Region of Waterloo International Airport came within three metres of a drone, just three months after several pilots spotted a drone flying near the end of an airport runway.

A drone reportedly flew over the thousands of spectators at this year’s Oktoberfest parade. Online, there are local drone-shot videos of this year’s ChristKindl Market and the light rail construction construction.

What most people don’t realize, though, is that many of those uses are illegal.

Read the full story at the Kitchener-Waterloo Record website