Kathryn McCulloch says it’s exciting, navigating  a new frontier in the legal industry


Tell us about yourself and your background.

I am “all-Canadian” – I was born in Ontario, Canada, grew up in Nova Scotia and Alberta, and now practice as a litigation and regulatory lawyer, with a practice that focuses on aviation and drones, in Toronto, Ontario. I have been a licensed fixed-wing private pilot since 2011.  

How did you get started in the drone industry?

Being a pilot meant I had a natural proclivity for aviation law. I had the opportunity to be involved in a number of high profile aviation accident lawsuits early in my career, which solidified by interest in the legal side of flight. In Canada, drones are regulated by the same legislation and regulations as general aviation, the Canadian Aviation Regulations.  Getting into the drone industry as a lawyer was a natural combination of my two main interests. Though the legislation that applies to drone operations is much the same as general aviation, drones (quite rightly and necessarily) have their own robust section dealing specifically with drone flight and operations.

Tell us about your organization and your role there.

Dentons is a global law firm with more than 8,000 lawyers worldwide.  We have a significant aviation and drone law practice that intersects with various other legal practice groups and industry sectors, including entertainment, mining, privacy, cyber-security, technology law and start-up technology companies.  As a drone regulatory lawyer, I assist participants in all areas of the drone industry, including drone services operators, insurance companies, technology start-up companies, media and entertainment giants and businesses looking to use drones as tools to conduct operations more efficiently and safely. I have also initiated a Drone Thought Leaders Speaker Series to bring together specialists in artificial intelligence, drone regulation, privacy, drone insurance, technology and customs regulation to promote advancements in the industry and will soon be launching a Canadian legal drone blog, Drone Law Canada.

Industry Experience:

 What do you like most about being in the UAV industry?  

UAVs represent a new “frontier” in the legal industry (as they do in many other industries). Being a regulatory lawyer in a developing industry like UAVs is exciting. As regulators continue to grapple with the rapid rate of technological advances in artificial intelligence, sense and avoid technology and drones, new legal issues arise constantly that do not have clear-cut answers. Being in a position to help technology start-ups, entertainment companies, and those looking to innovate in their industries is both fascinating and challenging from a legal perspective.

What’s your favorite type of project and why?

I love assisting companies that have unique ideas to engage drone technology in our everyday lives and who are not afraid of finding creative solutions despite the increasingly tight regulatory regime in Canada. One of the biggest challenges for the drone industry in Canada is trying to operate legally and create solutions that do not breach the requirements and limitations set out in the Canadian Aviation Regulations and other laws. Helping companies work within the existing framework and to plan for the regulatory changes that are expected to take effect in Canada at some point in 2018 is consistently challenging and rewarding. The creativity of Canadians is invigorating. I have a front row seat to companies deploying drones in the entertainment industry, increasing efficiencies in factories, farms or rural areas, and developing new delivery systems.  

Do you have a success story you would like to share?

I would love to but cannot – our retainers are, for the most part, confidential and cannot be shared.

What excites you most about the potential for women in the industry?

More and more women are rising through the ranks in private companies, industry associations and government. Particularly in technology-based industries, including drones and autonomous vehicles, women are mentoring and encouraging other women to participate and getting them involved. It is a wonderful time to be active in this industry.

What You’ve Learned:

What has been your most significant “lightbulb” moment since you entered the industry? 

The most significant “lightbulb” moment was when I realized that for drones to become integrated into our everyday lives, a new traffic system over our towns and cities must be developed. In my view, this is a matter of “when”, not “if”.  As the technology matures and Transport Canada (the drone regulatory body in Canada) is able to address the safety concerns in the industry, the path will be cleared for the creation of a low altitude system to facilitate drone delivery, cargo transport and, eventually, passenger travel. At that point, the paradigm shift of using drones (and other autonomous vehicles) will start to become a reality.

What have you learned you wish you had known when you got started?

I wish I had known to be more patient with development of the laws and regulatory regime in this burgeoning industry. The task of creating a legal framework that preserves public safety, allows for the integration of drones in airspace that commercial and civil aviation has occupied (for the most part, alone) for decades, and is forward looking for advances like beyond-visual-line-of-sight operations, is enormous. It will take time to complete develop a workable framework. There will invariably be more growing pains. Companies looking to advance in the drone industry, especially in Canada, will need to work cooperatively with regulators like Transport Canada in order to see their ideas and aspirations come to life.

Is there a tip you learned you would like to share with other women in the industry?

Be bold and do not think twice about being a woman in this industry. Everyone has a unique viewpoint and skillset to share that will contribute to building the UAV industry.


What’s the best way for W&D readers to connect with you?

Kathryn McCulloch
Dentons Canada LLP
Blog:  www.dronelawcanada.com

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