Paul Baur is certified by Transport Canada to train pilots and administer certification exams.

Transport Canada has released new rules for the rapidly growing drone industry. Published in Canada Gazette II, the changes govern all aspects of visual line of sight (VLOS) operations for all pilots flying uncrewed aerial vehicles in the “small” category (drones weighing between 250 g and 25 kg). In this article, I’ll provide a brief overview of the coming changes. If you fly drones in Canada, remember that you’re responsible for knowing and following the rules, so be sure to read up on the details.

A note on nomenclature: Transport Canada uses the term remotely piloted aerial systems (RPAS) to refer to drones.

Canada’s Existing Drone Rules

Canada’s current drone laws make a distinction between recreational and commercial drones, with different rules for each.

Transport Canada requires commercial drone pilots operating a drone that weighs more than 25 kg to obtain a special flight operations certificate (SFOC). To do that, pilots must:

  • Attend training through an approved drone flight school.
  • Complete an Application for a Special Flight Operations Certificate.
  • Send the form and supporting flight operations documents to the Transport Canada regional office for approval. Transport Canada has used a crawl, walk, run approach: the applicant first applies for a site-specific SFOC before applying to obtain a regional SFOC. Transport Canada grants a national SFOC to operators flying aircraft listed in Transport Canada’s compliant aircraft list.

Canada’s New Drone Rules as of June 1, 2019

Transport Canada’s new drone rules comprise a number of changes.

1. Canadian drone operators will now identify operations as “basic” or “advanced”

The new rules make a distinction between flights in controlled and uncontrolled airspace, rather than the commercial/recreational system currently in place. Transport Canada’s goal is to ensure a standard set of knowledge and skills for both hobbyist and commercial pilots. MAAC members will still be allowed to operate in designated MAAC fields with the recreational modelers exemption even if the location is within controlled airspace.

Basic drone operations fall into the following framework:

  • Flights exclusively in uncontrolled airspace
  • Drone stays more than 30 horizontal meters (100 feet) from bystanders
  • No flights over bystanders or anyone not associated with your operation
  • Drone stays at least 5.6 kilometres (3 nautical miles) from airports or 1.9 kilometres (1 nautical mile) from heliports

If an operation doesn’t meet any one of the above conditions, it’s considered advanced.

Advanced drone operations fall into the following framework:

  • Flights in controlled airspace
  • Drones are Transport Canada “RPAS Safety Assured” compliant
  • Flights within 30 meters (100 feet) of bystanders (measured horizontally)
  • Flights over bystanders (when flying a Transport Canada compliant aircraft deemed safe for over people and roads operations)

2. Process for obtaining a “basic” drone operators license

In addition to the general rules for flying a drone in Canada, pilots conducting basic drone operations must:

  • Obtain a Basic Operations Pilots Certificate by passing Transport Canada’s Basic Operations written exam.
  • Register drones on Transport Canada’s drone portal.
  • Keep flight logs and maintenance logs.

3. Process for obtaining an “advanced” drone operators license

In addition to the general rules for flying a drone in Canada, pilots conducting advanced drone operations must:

  • Obtain an Advanced Operations Pilot Certificate by passing the Small Advanced Exam and an in-person flight review. The flight review will assess a pilot’s ability to operate a drone safely through a series of verbal and practical components.
  • Fly with a drone that meets RPAS Safety Assurance standards.
  • Conduct a site survey of the area where you will fly. Take note of any obstacles, such as buildings and power lines, distance to aerodromes as well as obtaining local area emergency ATC contact numbers.
  • Keep flight logs, maintenance logs, and operational checklists.

4. Overlapping regulations for both basic and advanced operations

The following rules apply to all basic and advanced drone operations:

  • All drones that weigh between 250 g and 25 kg must be registered with Transport Canada. Aircraft must clearly display a registration number on the frame. Pilots operating drones that weigh more than 250 grams but less than 25 kg must obtain a drone operators license.
  • Fly your drone where you can see it at all times.
  • Stay below 122 meters (400 feet) in the air.
  • Fly away from bystanders, at a minimum distance of 30 meters for basic operations.
  • Don’t operate a drone more than 25 kg or over a publicly advertised event unless the pilot has  obtained a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC).
  • Fly far away from other aircraft.
  • Do not fly anywhere near airplanes, helicopters, and other drones.
  • Always respect the privacy of others while flying.
  • Do not consume alcohol or drugs within 12 hours prior to flying.

How Skyward Trains Commercial RPAS Teams

In my role as a consultant for Skyward Professional Services, I help companies in Canada train RPAS teams, foster a culture of safety, create high-efficiency workflows, and maintain regulatory and corporate compliance. I can also come to your company to train and certify your pilots on site. Here’s a sample training schedule:

  1. A few weeks in advance, I provide your trainees access to a Transport Canada-certified self-led ground school. The trainees complete the online training on their own, which usually takes about 20 hours.
  2. I’ll come to your company and prep your pilots for the test.
  3. The next day, we’ll conduct flight training in the field.
  4. On Day 3, I’ll proctor a classroom-based exam, evaluate the results, and input them into Transport Canada for immediate certification.
    (optional) If a trainee does not pass, that’s okay. An extra day can be reserved for trainees to try again.


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