As of June 1, 2019, anyone looking to fly a drone in Canada is regulated by Part IX of the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs).
The quick and dirty on the changes are:
- Everyone must register their drones if they weigh more than 250g.
- Everyone must obtain either a basic or advanced pilot certificate.
- You must be at least 14 years of age to obtain a pilot certificate.
- You must keep your drone within line of sight when flying.
- You are permitted to fly to a max altitude of 400′ above ground.
- Foreign pilots are required to obtain a SFOC before flying in Canada.
How to Fly your Drone in Canada
Here is a summary of the key changes that affect both domestic and international pilots that are looking to fly their drones in Canada.
Pilot Certificates – Section 901.53
All drone pilots are now required to obtain either a basic or advanced pilot certificate. You must be at least 14 years of age to obtain a pilots certificate, and those under 14 can still fly as long as they are supervised by a person that is at least 14 and possesses a pilot certificate.
Basic Pilot Certificate – Section 901.55
Basic pilot certificates allow pilots to operate in uncontrolled Class G airspace. In the basic category, all operations must be at least 14 years of age, and pass the basic exam. The basic category is great if you’re looking at flying outside of controlled airspace, at least 3nm from airports and 1nm from heliport, and 3nm away from DND aerodromes.
The basic pilot certificate is perfect for this that want to fly in the countryside, and away from people and controlled airspace. The basic permit allows you to operate as close to 100′ laterally (30m) from people not involved in the operation.
Advanced Pilot Certificate – Section 901.62
The advanced pilot certificate is for those 16 years old or older, that wish to fly in more complex environments, including controlled airspace, near airports/heliports/aerodromes, or near/over people. Like the basic certificate, the advanced requires passing an online exam and then an in-person flight review with a Transport Canada delegated Flight Reviewer. Remember the old SFOC applications? The flight review is like conducting a SFOC application in person, and then proving your flight skills.
While the advanced exam is standardized, the RPAS system that you operate will determine which category you can operate within. Transport Canada publishes a list of approved RPAS systems, and the three categories of operation are:
- In controlled airspace.
- Near people – not less than 16.4′ (5m) laterally from another person, and at any altitude.
- Over people – at a distance of less than 16.4′ (5m) laterally from another person, and at any altitude.
Even with an advanced certificate and a drone that is allowed to operate in controlled airspace, you are still required to obtain permission from the airspace controlling agency (Nav Canada) prior to flying in that airspace. Failure to do so can result in a hefty fine.
Regardless if you’re in the basic or advanced category, you’ll need to carry your pilot certificate with you during all flight operations.
Drone Registration in Canada – Section 901.02
In order to be able to fly your drone, you must register your drone with Transport Canada. This applies to all drones above 250g, and the registration number must be clearly visible on the drone. Registration costs $5, and requires you to provide the purchase date, make, model, serial number, weight and type of drone. Once you have registered, you’ll immediately receive a download link to obtain your registration. Print that off and keep it with your drone as it’s required to be with your drone during all flight.
Flying your Drone in Controlled Airspace
In order you fly your drone in controlled airspace, you are required to obtain approval from the controlling agency. Nav Canada has created a RPAS Flight Authorization Request form that needs to be submitted and approved before you are allowed to fly. In addition to this tool, the National Research Council Canada has published a Drone Site Selection Tool to help you determine what kind of flight operations may be permitted. In addition this tool, I highly recommend a copy of the Canadian Flight Supplement, and ForeFlight or paper VNC maps so that you can most accurately determine which airspace you are in.
Visual Line-of-Sight Operations – Section 901.11
All drone flights must be conducted with either the pilot or visual observer maintaining visual line of sight at all times. Looking through FPV goggles or at your display doesn’t satisfy this. If you’re going to fly like that, bring someone with you that can physically keep an eye on your drone at all times. If you’re looking to fly beyond visual line of sight, you’ll require a Special Flight Operations Certificate – RPAS, as detailed under section 903.03 of the CARs.
Emergency Security Perimeter Prohibition – Section 901.12
Drone pilots are prohibited from operating over or within security perimeters established by a public authority in response to an emergency. Think of police, fire, search and rescue, disasters, etc. Just stay away and don’t interfere with their operations.
Don’t Drink and Fly – Section 901.19
Another change that affects both manned and unmanned operations, is alcohol consumption. Previously, pilots weren’t allowed to fly within 8 hours of consuming an alcoholic beverage. Under the new rules, no person shall act as a crew member of a drone within 12 hours of consuming alcohol, while under the influence of alcohol, or while using any drug that impairs their abilities to the extent of endangering aviation safety.
Maximum Altitude – Section 901.25
You are permitted to fly to a maximum altitude of 400′ (122m) above ground level. If you are flying within 200′ (61m) horizontally of a building or structure, you are permitted to fly 100′ higher than that building or structure.
Weather Minimums – Section 901.34
Previously, drone pilots had to adhere to high visibility and cloud ceilings, but that has been significantly changed. Under the new rules, pilots must operate in accordance with the manufacturers instructions, and always keep the aircraft within line of sight. Icing conditions however are still prohibited, as per section 901.35 (1).
Night Flight – Section 901.39
In order to fly at night, you require lights on your aircraft. The CARs reference, “remotely piloted aircraft is equipped with position lights sufficient to allow the aircraft to be visible to the pilot and any visual observer, whether with or without night-vision goggles, and those lights are turned on.” Most drones come with lights, and external lighting options such as Lume Cube can also be added for increased brightness.
Special Aviation Events and Advertised Events – Section 901.41
Drone pilots can’t operate at outdoor concerts, festivals, markets, sporting events, or special aviation events without a Special Flight Operations Certificate. SFOC details can be found under section 903.03.
Flying near airports, heliports and aerodromes – Section 901.47
Drone pilots are prohibited from flying in a manner that could interfere with an aircraft operating in the established traffic pattern. Additionally, pilots can’t fly within 3 nautical miles of the centre of an airport, 1 nautical mile from the centre of a heliport, or 3 nautical miles form the centre of a DND aerodrome.
Flight within these limits is possible under the right conditions. If you have your advanced pilots certificate, along with a RPAS that has been declared for operations within controlled airspace, and approval from the airspace controlling agency, you can fly within 1nm of a heliport and 3nm of an airport.
For DND airspace, you will require a SFOC to be able to operate within 3nm.
Flight Logging and Record Keeping – Section 901.48
You are now required to log all of your flights and maintenance. Flight logging requirements include name of pilot and crew members, and the time of each flight. Maintenance items such as mandatory and maintenance action, modification, or repair of the system must be logged. Items required for maintenance logging include the name of the person who performed it, date of maintenance, instructions to complete the work, and in case of a modification the manufacturer, model, and description of the part or equipment.
Flight records must be kept for 12 months after the day they were created, and maintenance records for 23 months after the day they were created.
If you need a drone flight and maintenance logbook, I have created a free one for you to download. It allows you to cover off all of the above, and is available for both Excel and Numbers.
When do you need a SFOC? – Section 903.01
Special Flight Operations Certificates are for the most part a thing of the past. However, there are still a few circumstances when you’ll need a SFOC to fly your drone in Canada.
Below is a list of circumstances in which you’ll require a SFOC, and details for how to apply can be found in section 903.02 of the CARs.
- When you want to fly a drone that has a take-off weight of more than 25kg (55lbs).
- To fly beyond visual line of sight.
- If you are a foreign operator who has been authorized by your foreign state. Basically, you must be allowed/licensed to conduct the same operations in your home country, and have the documentation to prove it before obtaining a SFOC.
- To fly at a height of greater than 400′ AGL.
- To operate more than 5 drones from a single control station.
- To fly at a special aviation event or an advertised event.
- When the aircraft is transporting any payloads such as explosives, corrosive, flammable, bio-hazardous material, weapons, ammunition, etc. Section 901.43(1) goes into detail about this.
- To fly within 3nm of an aerodrome operated under the authority of the Minister of National Defence.
- Any other operation that the Minister determines that a SFOC is necessary.
Foreign Drone Pilots
All foreign drone pilots that would like to fly in Canada, are required to obtain a SFOC. In order to be eligible for a SFOC, you must be authorized to do so in your home country. An easy example is if an American citizen would like to fly in Canada, they must possess a FAA Part 107 prior to being granted permission to fly in Canada under a SFOC.
Fines and Penalties
If you fail to follow the new Canadian drone regulations, you could face a variety of fines and penalties. Examples of fines that can be issued include the following. The first number is for an individual, and the second is for a corporation:
- Up to $1,000/$5,000 for flying without a drone pilot certificate.
- Up to $1,000/$5,000 for flying unregistered or unmarked drones.
- Up to $1,000/$5,000 for flying where you are not allowed.
- Up to $3,000/$15,000 for putting aircraft and people at risk.
I think that the new regulations, licensing, and categories of RPAS systems are a great thing for Canadian aviation.
In addition to safety, the allowances that we have been provided will allow Canadian drone pilots to continue to lead the way in remotely piloted aviation.
Fly safe everyone!