What started as a side project for an engineering competition in 2013 quickly turned into a business venture for the Cobourg native, who now also runs DiMco Media, a company that markets and sells products online.
“Of course the first time I got it, I’ve got video of me flying above the CN Tower and that is just very, very stupid, but I didn’t know,” he said, sitting in his company’s office in downtown Cobourg on Aug. 27. “I was very uninformed which I think a lot of people are when they first buy (drones).”
While promoting the technology — which features a high-definition GoPro camera mounted to the bottom of an unmanned air vehicle, or UAV for short — to area real estate agents, he quickly realized that it would be a hard sell.
But as soon as he revealed the first aerial shots he took for a real estate agent, things looked up.
“As soon as I did one for Trenholm Parker I instantly had six real estate agents who I am constantly getting business from,” he said, referring to a local Remax Lakeshore Realty Inc. Brokerage sales representative. “It’s very easy to sell drones once you see the results.”
Although he has never had a drone crash, which could result when even one engine fails, he said he’s certain it could kill someone if it landed on them.
“You are not allowed to fly in urban areas and the fines are ridiculous,” he added. “I cannot afford to get a fine from Transport Canada.”
The rising sales and evolving technology of UAVs have not gone unnoticed by Transport Canada, which has the authority to regulate UAV operations by issuing special flight operation certificates to commercial users such as Mr. DiMarco.
Transport Canada has found that the increasing popularity of drones does interfere with manned aircraft, which it said presents unique challenges in developing regulations to safely integrate UAVs into Canada’s airspace.
By next year the government body intends to introduce regulatory requirements for drones that weigh 25 kilograms or less, and are operated within a visual line-of-sight.
The proposed changes would establish classifications including a proposal for the possibility of having a very small (lower threshold) category of aircraft, clarify terminology, establish aircraft marking and registration requirements, address personnel licensing and training, and create flight rules.
According to Roxane Marchand, a senior media relations advisor with Transport Canada, Canada is a world leader in UAV safety and has had regulations governing their use since 1996.
“To meet the increased growth in this sector, Transport Canada is developing new regulations to help safely integrate UAVs into civil airspace, while protecting those on the ground and in the skies,” she said. “Anyone using a UAV for commercial or research purposes must hold a special flight operations certificate from Transport Canada, unless they are able to meet the strict safety conditions required for an exemption.”
Each application is evaluated according to such criteria as proposed use and experience and safety track record of the applicant, and contains specific terms on what the operator is allowed to do, she said.
This can include restrictions and requirements such as maximum allowed altitude, communications with air traffic control, and minimum required distance from aerodromes, people, and buildings.
Ms. Marchand said that recreational users do not require a certificate to fly unless their UAV weighs more than 35 kilograms.
“However, they should follow Transport Canada’s safety guidelines, including only flying during the day and in good weather, not flying near people, animals, and buildings, and staying at least nine kilometers away from airports,” she added.
Not abiding by those rules could land an operator in hot water — being subject to the Criminal Code and to all provincial, territorial and municipal laws governing areas such as privacy and trespassing.
“Using a UAV in a reckless and negligent manner could cause damage or bodily harm, resulting in lawsuits, fines and jail time,” said Ms. Marchand.
If a business operator who uses a UAV fails to secure a flight certificate, Transport Canada can issue fines of up to $5,000 for an individual and $25,000 for a company.
Should an operator obtain a certificate but does not follow its requirements, Transport Canada can issue fines of up to $3,000 for an individual and $15,000 for a business.
With those regulations in mind, Mr. DiMarco said he recently had to turn down a request to shoot Cobourg’s Highland Games from the air.
“I would be terrified that something would happen,” he said, adding that he is wary of flying his UAV, manufactured by DJI, in cities. “I can’t go above my ceiling which is 400 feet (120 meters), with the ceiling for a commercial aircraft is 1,000 feet.”
Asked whether police are concerned about the growing popularity of drones in the region, Northumberland OPP Cst. Steve Bates said that locally it hasn’t been an issue.
“They seem to be a bigger issue in major cities more so,” he said. “I do know that they are growing in popularity and in the future we might run into some issue to do with privacy.”
While the OPP still uses planes and helicopters when searching for marijuana grow-ops, he said they have started to use UAVs to document crime and accident scenes.
“Currently the OPP has five unmanned aerial vehicles and they are for use in any part of the province,” said Cst. Bates. “For traffic collisions it has been found to reduce the time for taking pictures from 45 minutes to 15 minutes.”
Should the OPP wish to use one as part of a crime investigation, he said police officers would have to get a warrant authorizing surveillance.
“We’ve had several requests from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada to assist with investigating remote aircraft crash scenes,” he added. “That is a use we have had several requests for, and we have trained officers that have to be within sight of the UAV when they are operating it.”
In addition to police force applications, drones are now increasingly being used by others, such as construction companies looking for easier ways to assess a structure from the air, without having to send an employee to the roof.
The growth of the UAV industry has resulted in growing numbers of flight applications to Transport Canada.
In 2014, the department issued 1,672 certificates, compared to 945 in 2013 and 345 in 2012, which represents an overall increase of 485 per cent over two years.