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Can You Fly a Drone in Banff (Town & National Park)?

Nestled within Alberta, Canada is the resort Town of Banff, which is a part of Banff National Park. The town overlooks stunning views of Mount Cascade and Mount Rundle and features parkland and shopping.

It sounds like an optimal place for capturing footage on a drone, but can you legally fly in Banff?

Recreational drones are prohibited from both the Town of Banff and Banff National Park, with the park a designated no-fly zone. Commercial pilots may in some instances be able to fly but would need a Restricted Activity Permit and possibly a Commercial Flight Permit too.

Ahead, we’ll take a deep dive into the rules on drone flights in Banff so that whether you’re a recreational or commercial pilot, you can stay on the right side of the law.

Make sure you keep reading!

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Is recreational drone flight allowed in Banff?

Banff, as we established in the intro, is more than merely a town. It’s a town situated in a national park.

If you imagine that would make the drone usage rules a bit tricky, you’re absolutely right.

According to the Town of Banff’s website, recreational drone pilots are banned from taking to the skies.

The statement on their site is as follows:

“Airspace within the boundaries of the Town of Banff is restricted due to local heliports. Use of drones is a restricted activity in Banff National Park. Therefore, it is not permitted to fly drones inside the Town of Banff.”

Town of Banff

There is a twofold reason then why recreational pilots must keep their drones grounded here. For one, the Town of Banff has airspace restrictions due to the proximity of the resort town to heliports.

Secondly and even more important is that Banff National Park prohibits drone flights.

This interactive map (link) courtesy of the Government of Canada showcases that the park is a no-flight zone, so there is no mistaking the rules.

The Government of Canada website also has a statement on recreational drone use. It’s short and sweet, reading:

“Recreational drone flying is prohibited across all Parks Canada locations. Please do not fly your drone in the park.”

Government of Canada

That’s as cut and dried as it gets.

If all you have is a TRUST certificate and a Part 107 license, then operating your UAV within Banff is going to get you in a lot of trouble.

We’ll talk more about that later, so make sure you don’t miss it.

Is commercial drone flight allowed in Banff?

Before we get into that though, we have to address commercial pilots and their ability to fly in Banff.

Drone license holders are granted more flying freedoms, as the Town of Banff does allow commercial pilots to use their drones but only if they have at least a Restricted Activity Permit.

Restricted Activity Permits

This permit is issued by a superintendent and is only for specific purposes, including site and park management, law enforcement, public safety, and cultural or natural resource management and protection.

To apply for your Restricted Activity Permit, you have to send an email to banff.superintendent@pc.gc.ca. The email acts as a written proposal.

In the proposal, you’ll include the reason you want to use your drone in the Town of Banff.

Commercial filming is an acceptable reason to obtain a Restricted Activity Permit according to the Government of Canada website.

That said, you’d likely need a separate permit, which is the Commercial Film Permit.

Commercial Film Permits

A Commercial Film Permit applies to those outside of news media who want to visit the Town of Banff and do commercial filming, including for television, film, video, photography, or documentaries.

According to the Town of Banff website per the link above, you must send your application at least a week in advance of when you’d need the permit. If yours is a larger production, then the application should be mailed 30 days in advance.

This way, you get the approval you need in enough time to film.

The Town of Banff will only issue Commercial Film Permits during specific periods throughout the year.

For instance, you’ll never get your permit approved for filming during any weekend from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.

All requests for filming on long weekends throughout the rest of the year will similarly be turned down.

That also applies if your filming would disrupt pedestrian parking or traffic or if it requires the use of a vehicle.

Okay, so how does the application process work? Well, first you need to fill out this form.

The information required in your application is as follows:

  • Filming start and finish date
  • The name of the film production
  • Your first and last name
  • Your email address
  • Your phone number
  • Your mailing address
  • A film production summary, including its audience and your method of broadcasting or displaying the production
  • Any crew and cast members
  • How many nights you’ll have to spend in a Banff hotel
  • Your preferred location and a backup
  • The location, time, and date for filming
  • Your filming map
  • Your proposed film itinerary
  • Your communications plan as applicable
  • Your parking plan
  • Your insurance plan and policy number

There is a lot of information to fill out, but the Town of Banff says that if you miss a part of the application that it will automatically be rejected.

How much insurance do you need?

At least two million dollars in general liability insurance, and His Majesty the King, in Right of Canada, as represented by the Minister of Environment for the purpose of Parks Canada Agency must be listed as an insured party, as must the Town of Banff.

Even if you do get approved, you might need extra permits depending on the scope of your project.

It’s also not free to obtain a Commercial Film Permit in Banff. Each day you use the permit, you’re shelling out $263 unless you’re filming for five days in a row.

In that case, then it only costs $200 per day.

What happens if you get caught using a drone in Banff?

Banff takes drone usage very seriously, so if you’re not permitted or otherwise granted access to be within Banff and Banff National Park with your UAV, there will be consequences.

On the Government of Canada website, there’s even a phone number that people who live in Banff or are visiting Banff National Park are supposed to use to contact the park warden if they see someone using a drone.

A CBC article from 2018 reports on a man named Danny McEachen from Calgary who flew his drone in Banff National Park.

Two people in the park called the aforementioned number and lodged complaints about him.

So what happened to McEachen? The same thing that would happen to any drone pilot, even if–as was the case for McEachen–they didn’t realize they couldn’t operate a UAV in Banff National Park.

There is no warning. Instead, the warden jumps right to a fine, which is $25,000. McEachen also had to appear in court. While in court, he was charged an additional $500 by the judge.

Now, the cautionary tale above is only an example of a first-time offense. The article as well as the Government of Canada website does not mention what would happen with a subsequent offense.

Considering the first-time punishment is so incredibly steep ($25,000 is no small amount of money by any stretch of the imagination!), we shudder to think what a second-time punishment would entail.

It’s best not to find out. You shouldn’t even have a first-time offense now that you’re privy to Banff’s drone rules.

Conclusion

Banff is a resort town in Banff National Park, which means that the crackdown on the rules is twice as strict as in most places in Canada.

The Town of Banff has restricted airspace while Banff National Park wants to limit drone use, so recreational pilots are absolutely prohibited with no exceptions.

Commercial drone pilots can fly if they have a Restricted Use Permit, which is only granted for certain situations. A Commercial Film Permit that ties in with those purposes is necessary as well if you’ll use your drone for filming or photography.

Do not break the law here if you can help it. Banff issues hefty fines of $25,000 for violating drone usage rules, and you might have to pay more money still when you appear in court and plead guilty.

References:
Canada national parks – Banff National Park (link)
Commercial Film Permits | Banff, AB (link)
CBC (link)