By Jonathan Vanian
October 16, 2017

For the first time in Canada’s history, a drone has hit a commercial airplane.

Canada’s minister of transport, Marc Garneau, revealed this weekend that a drone struck a SkyJet Airlines plane while it was nearing the Jean Lesage International Airport in Québec City.

“This is the first time a drone has hit a commercial aircraft in Canada,” Garneau said in a statement, “and I am extremely relieved that the aircraft only sustained minor damage and was able to land safely.”

There were no injuries to the eight passengers on board the plane, according to a report by the CBC, Canada’s public broadcaster.

Garneau elaborated on the drone incident during a press conference. The official said that the accident would have been “much more serious” if the drone smashed into the plane’s cockpit or engine.

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“It’s important to note that aircraft are particularly vulnerable when on final approach coming in—the pilot is concentrating on landing properly,” Garneau said at the press conference.

Like the United States, Canadian hobbyists are not allowed to fly their drones in restricted areas like airports. Garneau said in a statement that concerns over drone incidents prompted Canadian lawmakers to issue interim drone guidelines that restrict their use.

Some of these drone guidelines are similar to U.S.’s Federal Aviation Administration’s rules, including not allowing hobbyists to fly their drones beyond the line of sight of their operators or at night.

Garneau did not say if Canada’s transportation agency has determined who the drone pilot was or if it intends to punish the person. He said in his statement that anyone who violates the country’s drone rules “could be subject to fines of up to $25,000 and/or prison.”

“Transport Canada is monitoring the situation and is in contact with its transportation partners including Skyjet, the Jean Lesage International Airport and NAV CANADA [Canada’s air traffic organization],” Garneau said. “My department is in contact with the Service de police de la Ville de Québec and we will cooperate with the Transportation Safety Board should they decide to investigate.”

The drone accident comes after the Canadian company Drone Delivery Canada said last week that it’s been approved by the indigenous Moose Cree nation to test a commercial drone delivery system in northern Canada and is waiting approval Canadian regulators. The company wants to use drones to deliver mail and supplies to rural areas in the country without roads and create a sort-of “railway in the sky.”

Although companies like Amazon are excited about the potential to use drones to deliver goods, accidents like the one at the Quebec airport are likely to throw a monkey wrench in getting these big delivery projects off the ground. Both drone rules in the U.S. and in Canada are still in a state of flux, and until they get ironed out to meet the specific needs of companies as well as residents, it’s likely widespread deliveries will not occur as fast as expected.

Update: Oct. 17, 8:40 AM PT. Story updated with more information on Drone Delivery Canada’s drone test.

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