Alberta could be home to UAV testing centre
July 10, 2012, Foremost, Alta. - A plan to transform a remote
southeastern Alberta community into a world centre for testing
commercial drone aircraft is getting off the ground.
July 10, 2012 By The Canadian Press
Transport Canada has given the Canadian Centre for Unmanned Vehicle
Systems permission to apply for restricted airspace around Foremost to
fly small planes, helicopters and possibly blimps from an airfield
outside the village.
Bill Werny, a spokesman for the federally licensed non-profit company, believes cordoning off part of the sky for testing
commercial drones would be a first in Canada. The plan is to attract
corporations willing to pay to train operators and safely test-fly
machines that could be as small as a laptop computer or as large as an
"This will ultimately lead to the commercialization of unmanned vehicles in Canada,'' said Werny, a retired Canadian Air Force
Unmanned aerial vehicles are increasingly being used by countries around
the world for surveillance patrols and in some cases as weapons.
Missile-firing U.S. Air Force Predator drones have been used to kill
Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.
Now the aerospace industry is looking at the commercial market for a
cheap, safe alternative to piloted aircraft for peaceful tasks such as
monitoring oil pipelines, wildfires, crops, insect pest infestations and
ice floes or in police search operations.
The challenge is to find uncongested airspace to safely test commercial drones.
That's one of the selling points of the Foremost facility, which includes a paved air strip, hangar and control buildings.
There is little air traffic in southeastern Alberta, the land is very
flat and the weather is clear more than 300 days a year. Very
few people live in the area, which lessens the chance of a drone injuring someone if there were a crash.
The centre would act as host to corporations that contracted to use the facility under the eye of federal regulators.
"We are the catalyst behind it, but Transport Canada is going to be controlling how we conduct business,'' Werny said.
The centre is also working with Transport Canada and Nav Canada on what area the restricted airspace would cover, he said.
Operators want an area big enough for flights that go beyond the line of sight of an operator remotely flying a drone.
The centre expects Transport Canada approval by the fall. Commercial operations could begin by next year.
Alberta hopes a testing facility would bolster and diversify the economy of the region, which largely relies on agriculture.
Brad Ferguson, executive director of the Rural Alberta Development Fund, suggested that over time the project could attract
a cluster of high-tech supporting industries to the area.
"It could create great high-tech jobs in rural Alberta,'' Ferguson said.
"This is a great example where our geography is an asset.''
The Alberta fund contributed a one-time $3-million grant a few years ago
to help the fledgling operation get started. The federal
government contributed $1 million that allowed the centre to purchase a catapult device to launch drones.
Like busy pilots in a cockpit, Werny and his colleagues must multi-task
if the Foremost testing and training facility is to really fly. That
means marketing the facility to get corporations to sign contracts.
The plan is to use the restricted civilian airspace zone as a selling point this November at the Unmanned Systems Canada
convention in Ottawa, where corporations from around the world will be gathering to talk drones.
The theme of the convention is how companies involved in military
unmanned aircraft can make the transition to civil and commercial
Werny said officials will also be attending industry conventions in Las Vegas and Halifax to promote Foremost.
"We need industry to embrace this. They have to a degree, but it is
expressions of intent. That doesn't mean commitment. Now we need
industry to commit.''