Nav Canada Partners with Unifly to Allow Drones to Safely be Flown in Restricted Canadian airspace

There is no doubt that air travel has made our modern existence much easier. Even if we aren’t hoping on planes to quickly travel around the world, we still rely on aeronautics to keep us in contact with the items that we use to run our daily lives. It’s easy to take for granted how much we benefit from aircraft and the people who control these vehicles. Maintaining safe airspace has become a logistical nightmare over the years as more commercial, cargo, government, and private aircraft take to the skies. And now with the growing pressure to make more airspace for drones, the logistics have become even more complicated. On November 1, 1996, the Canadian government transferred air traffic responsibility over to Nav Canada. Since then Nav Canada has become one of the most trusted air traffic operators in the world. In fact, when the United States was looking to improve their air traffic control model, the FAA looked to Nav Canada for guidance and inspiration.

Today the privately run, not for profit, Nav Canada oversees the logistical operations of nearly 12 million aircraft, and 40,000 customers a year over the 18 million sq kilometers of Canadian airspace. With their headquarters in Ottawa, Nav Canada is the second largest air navigation service provider (ANSP) in the world. Part of Nav Canada’s responsibility, just like the FAA, is to govern and implement drone safety regulations. With the massive amounts of aircraft already crowding the skies, finding safe ways for drones to share these spaces have been difficult to say the least. If a drone were to interfere with an authorized aircraft the results could be devastating.

We have heard far to many stories of how drones flying into restricted airspace have caused airports to shut down, stranding thousands of travelers, and costing airlines millions of dollars. Drones have interfered with emergency operations when they are flown in the pathways of sanctioned aircraft putting out fires or attempting rescue missions. For the most drone operators, knowing where not to fly is common sense. Staying clear of airports and other restricted airspace really isn’t that hard. Flight restrictions are a major component for the Part 107, the exam and resulting license to become a commercial drone pilot.

But as more and more companies want to further utilize drones for logistical enterprises, like deliveries, a new framework of airspace logistics needs to be made. Headquartered out of Antwerp, Belgium is a company that has been working to create a software system that will allow drones to navigate alongside of manned aircraft. Founded in 2015, Unifly is a company made up of people who have dedicated their professional lives to the logistics of air traffic control, both manned and unmanned. According to the company’s bio, “Unifly is a technology company with a platform for the safe integration of drones into the airspace…We want to bridge the gap between manned and unmanned aviation…Our main mission is to develop software applications that facilitate drone traffic in the very-low-altitude airspace…Our innovative tools inform drone operators where it is safe and legal to fly their drone and enable authorities and other aviation stakeholders to track the drone traffic and manage their airspace.”

In February 2020 Nav Canada announced that they would enter into a strategic partnership with Unifly to enable drones to safely be flown in restricted Canadian airspace. There are of course areas where drones would still be prohibited, such as around airports where the risk of collision is just to great. But as Unifly sees it, UTM (unmanned Traffic Management) is fully possible with the right tools, a tool which they call BLIP (Broadcast Location & Identification Platform). As they explain, “To guarantee safe drone traffic, it is vital to know the exact position of drones. Tracking is a key functionality when it comes to drone use. Especially in beyond visual line of sight drone operations. By using BLIP you can pinpoint the exact location of your drone. It combines all functions you could possibly need.”

In their partnership with Nav Canada, Unifly will be making BLIP available to air traffic controllers, as well as pilots of manned and unmanned aircraft through BLIP’s connecting app. The program will be available in both English and French, and provide an easy to follow system for safe flight. Using the system will allow registered drone pilots to know more than just where not to fly, but allow them to make second by second flight decisions for the safety of everyone. It will be much like the current logistical plans Nav Canada is already using for manned aircraft. However it will open the system up so drones can be incorporated into all Canadian airspace.

The world has come to rely on manned aircraft on a regular basis without realizing the amount of work that goes into make that a logistical possibility. In just a short matter of time the world has also begun to rely on the support of drones. It is vital for the progression of the industry that safe navigation systems be enacted. Mark Cooper, Senior Vice President of ANS Technology for NAV CANADA said, “After a thorough analysis of the market we selected Unifly based on their advanced technology and proven track record in numerous countries. The new app is a key component of our national drone strategy and will further our dedication to air traffic safety and technological innovation in Canadian airspace.” Nav Canada is once again setting the bar for air traffic control, a bar the will hopefully be passed on to other air traffic control organizations throughout the world.

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