There are two types of drone flying in Canada; Basic and Advanced. We’ll get into what separates these two in a minute.
If you’re familiar with U.S drone laws then you’ll probably find it easy to wrap your head around Canada’s since they’re mostly the same.
- If your drone weighs between 250 grams and 25 kilograms, it must be registered with Transport Canada. And just like in the U.S, it’s imperative that you put your registration number somewhere on your drone where it can be seen.
- If your drone weighs between 250 grams and 25 kilograms, you must get a drone pilot certificate before flying. (a printed or electronic document issued by Transport Canada)
- Maintain visual line of sight (i.e make sure you always fly your drone where you can see it).
- Always fly your drone below 400ft (122 meters) in the air.
- Fly away from bystanders by a minimum of 30 meters.
- Flying your drone over emergency sites or advertised events (sports events, for example) is prohibited.
- Likewise for the rule above, avoid flying your drone over forest fires, outdoor concerts and parades.
- Do not fly within 5.6 kilometers from airports or 1.9 kilometers from heliports.
- Avoid flying anywhere near aircrafts.
- Invading the privacy of others with your drone is strictly prohibited (i.e don’t be a creep…)
For drones weighing above 25 kg, all of the above guidelines must still be followed.
However, you should get a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC), an authorization that allows you to operate drones in circumstances that go beyond the guidelines specified above. For more information about SFOC, click here.
Who can fly drones in Canada?
So we’ve looked over the general rules and guidelines. But are there certain people who are prohibited from lying?
The answer is: not really. Anyone over 14 years old can fly their drone for basic operations while anyone over 16 can fly for advanced operations. There are exceptions to this rule in the presence of licensed pilots that allow kids below 14 to fly drones.
Advanced and Basic drone operations… and the difference between them
Like I said, drone operations in Canada are separated into two categories, basic and advanced. So how do you tell which is which?
Basic drone operations
If you meet all 5 of these conditions, you're conducting basic operations:
- You fly it in uncontrolled airspace
- You fly it more than 30 meters (100 feet) horizontally from bystanders
- You never fly it over bystanders
- You fly it more than 3 nautical miles from a certified airport or a military aerodrome
- You fly it more than 1 nautical mile from a certified heliport
If even a single 1 from these 5 qualifications are not met, you’re considered to be conducting advanced operations.
There are also certain rules you must follow if you want to perform basic operations.
- register your drone under TCCA
- mark your drone with a registration number
- pass the small basic exam (you can take it online)
- show your Pilot Certificate for Basic Operations proof of registration upon flying
Advanced drone operations
If you meet any 1 of these conditions, you are conducting advanced operations:
- You want to fly in controlled airspace
- You want to fly over bystanders
- You want to fly within 30 meters (100 feet) of bystanders (measured horizontally)
- You want to fly less than 3 nautical miles from a certified airport or a military aerodrome
- You want to fly less than 1 nautical mile from a certified heliport
Similarly, there are certain rules you must follow to in order to perform advanced operations:
- register your drone with TCCA
- mark your drone with registration number
- pass the small advanced exam (see previous link attached above)
- pass the flight review offered in drone flight schools
- show your Pilot Certificate - Advanced Operations proof of registration upon flying
- request an RPAS Flight Authorization from air traffic control agencies like NAV CANADA in order to fly in controlled airspace (to know more about Canadian airspace class, click here).
- fly only within the operational limits of your drone
“No Drone” Zones in Canada
“No drone zones” are areas where it may be illegal to fly your drone. Generally, try not to fly your drone in these areas:
- Around airports and aerodromes
- Busy and populated areas
- National parks
- Over border crossings (a very serious offense)
There are exceptions though. You can fly your drone in these areas for specific reasons (filmmaking, emergency, etc..), you just need explicit permission from the TCCA. For more information on “no drone zones,” see this page on the TCAA website.
Which drones can you fly in Canada?
You’d think that you can fly any drone you like as long as it’s less than 25 kilograms. That’s not entirely true.
Through the RPAS Safety Assurance, the TCCA has published a list of recommended drone models that have met their safety requirements for advanced operations.
About the RPAS Safety Assurance
In Canada, the RPAS Safety Assurance tells users the safety limits of the drone they are using. You must operate your drone within the limits outlined in the RPAS Safety Assurance declared by your drone manufacturer.
In a nutshell, it’s basically a drone tier list system when it comes to safety.
Drone pilots doing basic operations (discussed above) don’t need to bother with the RPAS Safety Assurance. Advanced drone pilots however need to keep it in mind. The TCCA has a list of drones they recommend and how they rank when it comes to safety, you can find it by going here.
What if I have a modified drone?
What if you have a modified drone that you can’t find in the TCCA list? Well, in that case you’ll have to submit a drone safety assurance declaration to the TCCA. Not doing so could lead to paying fines--CA$ 1,000-3,000 for individually-owned drones and CA$ 5,000-15,000 for corporation-owned drones. To submit a declaration, you may check this link.
How about drones that weigh less than 250g and over 25kg?
Drones that weigh below 250 g and more than 25 kg neither fall into basic nor advanced operations. If you have a micro drone (below 250 g), you just have to make sure you won’t put other people or aircraft in danger. If your drone weighs more than 25 kg, you have to secure an SFOC from the TCCA.
Are there penalties for breaking drone laws in Canada?
The first thing that comes to mind when seeing rules and regulations is what happens if you get caught breaking them… Well, there are unfortunately penalties in Canada for breaking drone laws. Some of them are severe while others are more like a slap on the wrist.
The fines for breaking drone laws can vary from $3000 all the way to $15,000. Piece of advice, just follow the rules, they’re common sense after all.