New drone business takes flight in Campbell River

Klahoose Nation hopes drone tourism will be an economic driver

“I feel good today. I feel really good.”

That was the sentiment from Chief James Delorme of the Klahoose First Nation during Saturday’s launch of a new drone park franchise.

Drone Territory is an innovative initiative of the Klahoose who are hoping their traditional territories will become favoured spots for drone tourism. Their lands, such as secluded Toba Inlet, offer scenic drone flying spots full of wildlife, most notably grizzly bears, and breathtaking waterfalls.

“Drone Territory is a perfect fit for First Nations as it does not rely on resource development or compromise our rights, titles and traditions,” Delorme said.

At the same time, it opens up opportunities for indigenous youth to enter a rapidly growing technology sector, Delorme said.

“We’re getting into this techology in a brave new way,” Delorme said during Saturday’s launch event at the Wei Wai Kum Nation’s Thunderbird Hall. “It’s been a dream of mine to get involved this way. There’s many ways that we can use this technology, not only in economic development but for bettering our communities, so this is why we’re doing this.”

Delorme acknowledged that the concept is a new one to many First Nation communities but said it’s a risk he believes will pay dividends in the long run.

“The drone launch is something new,” Delorme said, “something new that we knew was going to be risky but we understand how important this new technology is with our community and with all aboriginal communities.”

Drone Territory comes at a crucial time, as new rules have recently been introduced by Transport Canada that limit where recreational drones can be flown. The regulations prohibit pilots from flying unmanned aerial vehicles higher than 90 metres, within 75 metres of buildings, animals or people, at night, or within nine kilometres of an airstrip.

As such, the Klahoose say safe areas for recreational drone use are in demand. As a sport, drone racing has seen tremendous growth over the past year, gaining coverage on ESPN, TSN and Sky Sports, and drawing crowds to events in Las Vegas, Dubai and Hawaii.

The Canadian Federation of Drone Racing, which sets national rules and track safety standards for drone racing, has partnered with Drone Territory to help the Klahoose get their new enterprise up and flying.

And at Saturday’s launch event, members from Canada’s national drone racing team were on hand to guide youth on flying a drone.

They not only got the opportunity to fly a drone around the Thunderbird Hall but also took turns wearing first person viewing goggles which allowed the young pilots to virtually put themselves in the cockpit of the mini drones that were flying through hoops and thrilling the crowd.

Robert Mearns, communications manager for the Klahoose, said the demonstrations were an effort to entice youth to get involved.

“Once you’re able to experience it for yourself, you’ll understand why we’re so excited about it,” Mearns said.

For the Klahoose, it’s been roughly a year of work put into launching Drone Territory. Burns said it all started while going up to Toba Inlet to film promotional material.

“We got one of the phantom drones and the level of excitement when anyone saw this thing flying around, we just realized it’s such a great opportunity to get involved,” Burns said.

And Delorme said the Klahoose, whose traditional territories include land on Cortes Island, are not the only First Nation that could benefit.

He said drones can be used in forestry, housing, resource management and other sectors.

In the meantime, Delorme encouraged everyone in attendance at Saturday’s launch event to share their experience.

“Make sure you spread the word and the good things you saw here today,” he said.

With Drone Territory now launched, the new business and its First Nation partners will be offering drone pilots an opportunity to visit traditional territories to try, buy and fly drones. The business will also provide video capture services and technology training to First Nations to promote and document their territories.

To learn more about Drone Territory, visit, droneterritory.com