Thursday, July 03, 2014

Drone near-miss at Vancouver International Airport highlights Canada-wide problem: Royal Canadian Mounted Police

RICHMOND, B.C. -- RCMP and Transport Canada are conducting a joint investigation into a near-miss between a drone and an aircraft taking off from Vancouver's airport earlier this week.

The pilot of a K.D. Air Corporation plane reported the incident with the unmanned, remote-controlled aerial vehicle on Canada Day.

Sgt. Cam Kowalski said the remote-controlled devices, also known as UAVs, are becoming increasingly common because they're now so affordable and available online or in hobby shops.

 "It's a problem across Canada," he said Thursday.

Kowalski said that in the most recent case, the drone measured about half-a-metre square and was likely being navigated by someone close to the site.

But he said lasers pointed at police helicopters and other aircraft are equally troubling and there are few regulations prohibiting the use of either device in such situations.

Kowalski is leading an aviation safety committee that's part of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police to lobby the federal government to enact legislation around the use of lasers.

"We're looking at getting legislation that would not allow personal possession of these devices over a certain power," he said.

The beam from the lasers can be blinding for pilots and creates hazardous flying conditions.

"I equate it to stupidity," Kowalski said.

Penalties include fines and forfeiture of the laser.

In February, three men in Edmonton were each fined $3,000 after admitting they pointed a green laser at the Edmonton police Air-1 helicopter. They all pleaded guilty to one count of creating a hazard to aviation under the federal Aeronautics Act.

In March, police in Winnipeg said their helicopter had been targeted by laser beams 21 times since it took flight two years earlier.

Their report said eight people were arrested but no one had been caught in four out of five cases last year.

In February 2013, a 30-year-old Langley, B.C., man was handed a five-month conditional sentence with a nightly curfew, one year on probation and a ban on possessing lasers for shining a green laser at an RCMP helicopter.

Alexander Schiller was charged with mischief and violating the Canadian Aeronautics Act.

The FBI unveiled a public safety campaign in June, offering $10,000 for information leading to the arrest of anyone who threatens aircraft with a laser.

The agency is airing its message before movies in theatres in several cities over the next three months.

"Here's a pointer," the public service announcement reads. "Aiming a laser at an aircraft is a federal crime."

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