Five months have already passed since our annual conference, and the first meeting of our newly elected Board of Directors. 2015 certainly ended on a high note, with the UAV community anticipating the regulatory framework for Visual Line of Sight operations to be enacted, the culmination of years of leadership and the investment of countless hours by the members and Board of Unmanned Systems Canada. The conference was once again a great success. I was particularly struck by the emergence of case studies in the UAS sector which provide quantitative evidence of the results, information which is critical to the ongoing growth of our industry. Likewise, the spectacular advances in UUV technology were showcased by the presentations on the Franklin discovery expeditions, and the extreme challenges of Arctic operations. The prospect for radical change in our society brought upon by rapid developments in Automated Vehicles sparked much discussion, which has ramped up considerably in Canada even in the three months since our conference.
2015 ended with our annual UAV student competition having a record 18 teams signed up, with all 18 now having submitted their Phase 1 design papers. “Drones for Christmas” kept all of us busy with countless media interviews, all pointing to an ever-increasingly informed and engaged Canadian media, and, an informed public. Social licence is critical for the UAS sector, and we’re making great strides.
As your new Chairman, I had the opportunity to thank the outgoing Board members at the conference, and in particular the leadership of Stewart Baillie, who worked tirelessly on your behalf throughout his tenure. In particular, our Outreach program has expanded significantly, with participation at several dozen events last year, as has our engagement with government and affiliated organizations who are critical partners in ensuring the growth of our industries.
2016 has started off on a very past pace. Firstly, the Canada Pavilion at Xposition 2016 is a great opportunity for Canadian businesses to expand their market presence internationally. This newly branded AUVSI event is the largest of its kind in the world, and the Canada Pavilion provides a very visible and cost-effective presence; sign up before all of the space is gone! Moving forward, I have three priorities:
- Strengthen our business: which includes our annual conference, to grow the supply chain for our businesses ranging from academia through to end-users and the investment community. This includes focusing on timely and meaningful communications with our membership, to stay abreast of developments, initiatives and add value to members on a sustained basis.
- Build our industry: put a strategy in place with a roadmap and the resources to keep BVLOS moving including an R&D program which closes the gap on sense and avoid capabilities; and
- Grow new industries: automated vehicles are a major new sector which is seeing considerable investments, with opportunities to explore the development of technology clusters, pilot projects and new business models.
Our Outreach program for the year is starting to shape up nicely. Building on a number of panel discussions held at SecureTech and Humber College for first responders, regional events in Montreal and Vancouver with Transport Canada, and the annual Precision Agriculture conference in London ON., we are participating in a Port Security conference in Toronto in May, the second first responders workshop in Regina this summer, and our annual conference UnmannedCanada2016 of course, to name a few. Keep tuned to our website as we get these events onto our published calendar. Please let us know which events you think are important and should get posted to the calendar!
This year will be a crucial year for the UAS community. Almost a decade of persistent leadership and commitment by the Board and the membership of Unmanned Systems Canada has led to the announcement of the Notice of Proposed Amendment (NPA). However, we have only reached a first milestone. Firstly, we need to be prepared as a community to provide our inputs to the draft regulations as they are published in the Canada Gazette later this year. Secondly, we must place a focus on getting the BVLOS portfolio moving forward. Beyond Visual Line of Sight is where we expect to unleash the economic potential of UAS operations. What perhaps many, if not most of those in the UAS supply chain in Canada don’t know, is that Phase 2 of the UAV Program Design Working Group has already delivered the BVLOS framework. Putting this framework into practice in a timely fashion will be a focus of this Board of Directors, as there are many challenges to be met. USC recently released its position paper on the subject. I look forward to the support of the association’s membership in this critical endeavor: we have worked hard to create the regulatory framework we have today, which has provided a position of global leadership with dramatic growth in the UAS industry. We must, however, work hard to maintain and grow that leadership position.
With respect to UAS regulations, it is critical that we remain engaged internationally. Therefore, I am very pleased to announce that Charles Vidal has been appointed as Stewart Baillie’s replacement on the ICAO RPAS panel, and he has now participated in his first session. Sonia Higgins, our new Executive Director represents us on the International RPAS Coordination Council (IRCC). As a member of the IRCC, she is also a member of the UVS International Board of Director’s Non-Executive Committee – Non-Corporate. Closer to home, USC-STC has been invited to join in the NavCanada plenary body which broadly represents all of the stakeholders in the evolution of our Air Navigation Services. I had the privilege of attending for the first time, joining many of the organizations that have been with us through the CARAC WG and gaining a greater appreciation for the scope of activities, their priorities, and what we should be anticipating for changes yet to come. There are numerous other forums to which USC is invited to represent the community, and I will endeavor to keep you apprised of those.
We are fortunate to have a dedicated Board of Directors, ever increasing in its depth and breadth of expertise. Likewise, we have a great cadre of volunteers who make events such as the Student UAV Competition a success. And finally, our staff, which now includes Chloe Moffatt as our events and administration co-ordinator, and Mark Kendall working on our website, we are collectively committed to continuing to move the unmanned systems industry forward and grow the economic opportunities.
On behalf of the Board and the staff of Unmanned Systems Canada, I wish you all a prosperous 2016.