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New rules for drones: Pilot certificates, avoiding airports — and no drunk droning

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The federal government has adopted strict new regulations to govern the use of drones in Canadian airspace — prohibiting them from flying near airports and emergency scenes and ensuring that those operating them aren’t drunk or high on drugs.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau is set to formally announce the new rules for remotely piloted aircraft systems at a news conference in Montreal on Wednesday.

A copy of the new regulations obtained by CBC News reveals that they are comprehensive. They require that drones be registered and that operators of larger drones be certified. The regulations also state who can operate them, where they can fly and what they can carry.

For example, the regulations spell out that drones will not be allowed to carry living things and would require a special certificate to transport things like explosives, weapons or ammunition.

The new regulations will apply to drones that weigh more than 55 pounds. Most of the changes are scheduled to go into effect June 1.

Garneau’s announcement comes as the presence of drones near the U.K.’s Gatwick Airport before Christmas led to chaos. Hundreds of flights were cancelled because of the threat of drones colliding with aircraft, disrupting the travel plans of more than 100,000 passengers.

Passengers wait in line a queue in departures at Heathrow Airport in London, Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. London’s Heathrow Airport briefly halted departing flights on Tuesday after a reported drone sighting – a development that came just three weeks after multiple reports of drone sightings caused travel chaos at nearby Gatwick Airport. (Yui Mok/PA/Associated Press)

On Tuesday, the sighting of a drone disrupted flights for about an hour at Heathrow, the U.K.’s busiest airport.

Canada has not been immune. In October 2017, a small drone collided with a passenger plane in the skies above Jean Lesage airport in Quebec City, resulting in minor damage. Nobody was hurt. At the time, Garneau described it as the first collision in Canada between a drone and a commercial aircraft.

In June 2017, Garneau told the Montreal Gazette that the prospect of a drone colliding with an aircraft was “the kind of nightmare scenario that keeps me up at night.”

The government introduced interim rules in 2017 to govern drones while it worked on the final regulations. The regulations were adopted by cabinet just before Christmas — around the same time drone sightings were disrupting Gatwick flights.

The overriding theme in the new regulations is the need to prohibit the operation of drones “in such a reckless or negligent manner as to endanger or be likely to endanger aviation safety or the safety of any person.”

Nobody can be a registered owner of a drone unless they are at least 14 years old and a citizen or permanent resident of Canada. Corporations and federal, municipal or provincial governments can also own drones.

Unless they have a special certificate permitting them to do so, drone operators will have to keep their drones in their visual line of sight at all times. They won’t be allowed to fly them too close to airports, heliports or in controlled airspace and they will have to give way to aircraft, airships, gliders and balloons.

With the exception of police, rescue and firefighting operations, nobody will be allowed to fly a drone over or within a security perimeter set up by officials in response to an emergency. That could prohibit news organizations from using drones equipped with cameras to get aerial footage of crimes, disasters or terrorist attacks.

Drinking alcohol within 12 hours of being on a drone flight crew is prohibited, as is being “under the influence of alcohol” or “any drug that impairs the person’s faculties to the extent that aviation safety or the safety of any person is endangered or likely to be endangered.”

The rules also prohibit anyone from operating a drone or taking part in a drone flight crew when they are tired or otherwise unable to properly perform their duties.

No one will be allowed to fly a drone when the weather conditions prevent seeing the drone at all times, or when frost, ice or snow are stuck to the drone. Those who want to fly a drone at night will need special lights.

Those who want to fly them over a concert or sporting event will need a special flight operations certificate. It will also take a special flight operations certificate for a drone to transport things like explosives, weapons, ammunition, or flammable or biohazardous material.

There will be two levels of pilot certificate to operate a drone. Those with a basic certificate will have to be at least 14 years old and pass a test. However, the regulations also provide for someone under 14 to operate a drone if supervised by someone 14 or older who has a certificate.

Those with advanced operations certificates will get to fly closer to airports and controlled airspace. They will have to be at least 16 years old and pass an exam and a flight review.

Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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