Drone flights over Manitoba flood and forest-fire zones have disrupted aerial mapping efforts to help emergency personnel on the ground, says the business development manager for Taiga Air, a Winnipeg-based commercial aircraft operator.

Taiga Air business development manager Rob Walker says his company had to suspend mapping operations over the Portage Diversion flood zone in 2011 and forest-fire hotspots this spring because the amateur use of drones posed a threat to his aircraft.

“They’re dangerous. If you take that into an engine of an aircraft or if you take out a piece of your instrument, your rotors … you have to ground until the aircraft is clear,” said Walker, whose company uses helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and drones.

“We had to leave the area until the threat is gone. It wasn’t a huge thing, but it interrupts the work.”

He said there is too large a gulf between the regulations that govern commercial drone operators, who are required to file flight plans, and amateur drone operators, who are subject to mere guidelines.

Walker made his comments at city hall, where he appeared before council’s public works committee to speak in favour of a motion to explore the creation of a drone-operation bylaw for Winnipeg that would complement federal regulations.

St. James-Brooklands Coun. Scott Gillingham authored the motion, which asks city staff to look at whether such a bylaw can and should be created.

The impetus grew out of a meeting between Gillingham and aviation-industry officials. Richardson International Airport sits within his ward.

“The whole focus of the meeting was to address the issue of the increased number of UAVs being sighted and the potential impact that is having on the airline industry,” Gillingham said.

The councillor, who also chairs the Winnipeg Police Board, said he was told about an individual flying a drone on Monday night at Assiniboine Park.

“There happened to be an aircraft controller who was out in the park, enjoying the evening. [He] approached the individual to inform them that there are Transport Canada regulations, that he’s flying his drone close to the airport, he shouldn’t be doing that.

“I was told the response was one of belligerence: ‘It doesn’t matter what Transport Canada says, I want to fly my

Air Canada Pilots Association representative Chris Nicolaides also spoke in favour of the motion. Federal regulations could be complemented by more detailed municipal rules, he said, suggesting Winnipeg could pave the way for regulation in other cities.

He also said “the exponential rise” of UAV use means there must be greater awareness of existing rules.

Council’s public works committee asked city staff to spend four months considering the motion. A verbal report is due in February.

Committee chair Janice Lukes (South Winnipeg-St. Norbert) said the city must consult with Transport Canada, which sets federal aviation rules, and the privately run Nav Canada, which controls aircraft movements.

“Why put the cart before the horse?” she asked.

Gillingham said at the very least, the city can promote awareness of aviation safety.