Is the drone services operator I hired an independent contractor or employee of my business? Key reasons why the distinction matters

I. Introduction

When it comes to hiring a drone operator, there is no shortage of work-for-hire subcontractors in Canada.  Given the level of skill, technology and regulatory compliance required to operate drones, hiring a commercial drone operator is often the most cost-effective method of incorporating drones into your business.

However, when hiring a drone operator, businesses should be careful to ensure that they are characterized as “independent contractors” – not as “employees”. The main reason that a business should not unwittingly allow a drone services operator to be considered an employee is because employers owe certain legal duties to their employees, and employees have specific legal rights that independent contractors do not.

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Drone thought leaders speaker series – Advances in the drone industry

Drones – or “unmanned aerial vehicles” – are advancing at a blistering pace. Technological improvements have made drones safer, more accessible, user-friendly and cheaper. Taking to the skies resolves logistical problems, allows for the delivering of goods, permits the collection of mass data and will soon permit passenger travel. These developments represent a paradigm shift in many industries, including: transportation, media and entertainment, mining, agriculture, insurance and logistics.

Join us as we consider a wide-range of topics including:

  • Regulatory insights – what regulations are expected to change and when?
  • Using drones in your business – how can it be done safely and efficiently?
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Hiring a drone services provider? Key liability risks for your business

Businesses that contract for drone services are not necessarily shielded from liability if the drone operator breaks the law. In many ways, the purchaser of drone services is a passive participant in the flight and the drone operator’s actions. The prudent business owner contracting for drone services should consider the various sources of potential liability. Below, we provides some strategies for businesses to manage these risks.

Non-compliance with the Canadian Aviation Regulations

First and foremost, a drone services provider must comply with drone regulations. In general, the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs) prescribe offences for conducting drone operations that violates principles of aviation safety.

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Recent development in drone delivery commercialization in Canada

On December 15, 2017, Toronto-based technology company Drone Delivery Canada (DDC) announced that Transport Canada has accepted the company’s declaration of compliance for the X1000 Sparrow (Sparrow). The Sparrow is a cargo delivery drone, and the first of its kind to be accepted under Transport Canada’s program for compliant unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). The news represents a step forward in the provision of commercial drone delivery services in Canada.

As reported in an earlier blog post, DDC has plans in motion to launch the first commercial drone delivery service in Canada. Currently in its test phase, the pilot program will deliver food, mail and medical supplies via drones to the remote Moose Cree First Nation Community situated in Northern Ontario.

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Drone delivery commercialization set to begin in Canada

Canada is in a position to act as a first mover in the emerging space of commercial drone delivery services. Given Canada’s vast landscape and extreme weather conditions, it is often an onerous and costly process for residents in remote locations to obtain everyday essential goods. The Moose Cree First Nation Community is situated on Moose Factory Island, an area without direct access to the shoreline. In the summertime, basic goods are transported across the Moose River by barge. Recent developments in Canada present opportunities to implement the use of drones beyond military and recreational purposes, bringing drone technology to the forefront in the transportation of goods.

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Hiring a drone operator? Important indicators that the drone operator is legitimate

Drones are a tool for your business, but the cost of purchasing the most technologically-advanced drone and employing a trained (and soon required, licenced) drone pilot, may militate against the purchase. Hiring a drone services operator to perform the aerial shoot, obtain data collection, or survey your manufacturing plant or facility that your company requires, is likely the most cost-effective and convenient move. For more on this point, see our earlier Insight about questions to consider before purchasing a drone or hiring a drone services operator to perform the work for you.

With capable drones available for purchase by the public at relatively low costs, many drone services operators have set up a shingle and are open for business.

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Purchased a drone for your company?

Considerations for establishing an “in-house” drone flight department or hiring an external drone services operator

Has your company purchased a drone with the intent of using it at company events or in promotional materials? The price tag of the drone and its anticipated ease of use make the purchase a tempting one. However, flying a drone safely and in accordance with Transport Canada’s oft-changing regulations makes the use of a drone—particularly for commercial purposes—a minefield.Drones are developing at a rapid rate through advances in payload technology, sensor avoidance technology, engineering and electronics. A drone (or fleet) purchased will likely be outdated within months or require modifications in order to continue to operate at an optimal level.

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