‘Death sentence to this hobby’: Toy plane operators face new government regulations

Operators of radio-controlled toy aircraft say new rules are putting their hobby in jeopardy.

By Pat Taney

For the past 30 years, in a wide-open field within the Heber Downs Conservation area east of Toronto, nearly 100 members of the Whitby Aero Modellers R.C. Club would gather to fly toy planes.

Parker Leung is among them.

“I’ve been flying radio-controlled toy planes for 50 years,” he said.

He even designed his own toy plane with a red maple leaf, which he flew with pride.

“I created this,” he told CityNews. “Because I am an immigrant, I like Canada so much – this is the way I designed this one to respect our country.”

But due to new Canadian regulations he can’t legally fly it right now at the field his club leases in Whitby, Ont.

“I think the government has overstepped.”

According to the new regulations, put forth by Transport Canada, those who fly a radio-controlled aircraft that weighs more than 250 grams must obtain a basic remote piloted aircraft system certification. It requires users to take an online exam and pay a small fee. But the issue for Leung and his fellow club members is more complex.

Their field, which they lease with club membership dues, is located within three nautical miles of an airport.

“Because we are located within the distance set by Transport Canada from an airport, we have to get an advanced pilot’s licence, which is much more cumbersome and costly,” said Ken Livingston, president of the Whitby Aero Modellers Club. “We’re losing members because they don’t have the time to do this.”

To get an advanced pilot’s certificate, members have to take an additional exam, register their planes, pass a flight review and get permission every time before they fly. Not doing so can result in a costly fine if caught.

“We have a member who’s a professional pilot and it took him three times to pass this exam,” said member Aaron Bronee.

A radio-controlled aircraft
A radio-controlled aircraft is shown at an open field within the Heber Downs Conservation area in Whitby, Ont. (CityNews photo)

But Transport Canada, according to their website that lists the rules, maintains the measures are needed to ensure all radio-controlled operators fly safely. The change is in response to a huge increase in drone use over the past several years, which if left unregulated can pose risks to large-scale airplanes.

Club members understand that and agree, drone operators should undergo training before taking flight.

“But they did not distinguish between drones and old school model airplanes which have never had a problem in 70 years of flying,” Livngstone said.

Transport Canada did at first.

“When the plans were announced initially, model toy planes were given an exemption,” Livingstone said.

Transport Canada then reversed that. A spokesperson claims the Model Aeronautics Association of Canada (MAAC), a non-profit national representative of model airplane clubs like the one in Whitby, failed to meet certain requirements.

“The exemption was rendered invalid due to a breach of Condition #3 of the Exemption, which required that MAAC obtain written authorization from the controlling agency [NAV Canada] prior to sanctioning a field in controlled airspace. As such, MAAC members are now required to follow the rules,” a spokesperson said.

“Which we are asking them to reconsider because they’re not looking at the entire picture,” Bronee said.

‘These regulations are an overstep’

The Whitby Aero Modellers Club is part of MAAC. To be a part of a club under this umbrella, members must already go through extensive training before they can fly.

“They meet with an instructor and we go through all of the rules to ensure they’re ready to fly,” Bronee said. “We don’t allow anyone to just buy a plane and take flight, that doesn’t happen here.”

Members also point out the field they use is a controlled environment.

“About as safe as you can get,” Livingstone said. “We have people monitoring every plane that takes flight, we’re already very controlled here, these regulations are an overstep.”

A radio-controlled aircraft is shown at an open field within the Heber Downs Conservation area in Whitby, Ont. (CityNews photo)

Transport Canada says any club or individual is welcome to file for another exemption at any time.

The club is worried if they don’t get another exemption and continue to lose members due to the regulations, they could cease to exist. Already the field they lease, which was once buzzing full of activity from toy aircrafts taking flight, is silent. No planes have taken off since the regulations were put in place.

“We could lose this field if membership dues continue to drop,” Livingstone said.

Members also say the regulations are scaring off younger people who might be interested in model planes.

“If you tell new people they have to study for 40 to 50 hours, take this exam and cost you hundreds of dollars just to get ready to fly it, it will turn them off,” said member Dennis Ablett.

“This is a death sentence to this hobby,” Leung added. “Please give us a break, we are good citizens.”

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