Flying a drone in Canada comes with its fair share of rules. For starters, you need a certificate to even fly a drone weighing more than 250g anywhere in the country. Now before you go complaining about how strict it is in Canada, it’s important to understand that these rules are in place to keep us and the skies safe and to allow us to fly without further restrictions.
Because remember, the more you break the rules, the more laws will be created to restrict the use of drones even further, maybe even to a point where we cannot fly them at all! We definitely don’t want that in Canada! We’re true north strong and free!
As with any country you are flying a drone in, you need to be aware of the specific laws they have in place to ensure safety in the skies and for others. These laws are usually created by the country’s aviation authority.
The use of drones in Canada is regulated by Transport Canada, which is the agency in charge of all transportation in the country, including aviation. In Canada, you need either a basic or advanced certificate to fly a drone between 250g-25kg. You must register your drone and follow the Canadian Aviation Regulations or CARs.
The rules vary depending on how and where you plan to fly your drone and they are all outlined in the CARs. There are also options for when you need to fly outside of the rules of either the basic or advanced operations.
If you plan on flying sub 250g drones, you still have certain guidelines to follow as well, even though you don’t need certification to fly. This might sound like a lot of different regulations for different things and a lot of time to go through them all, but I’m here to break it down for you, so you know what actually applies to you.
Basic operations for drones in Canada
You are flying basic operations if you plan on flying your 250g-25kg drone in uncontrolled airspace, at least 30m horizontally away from bystanders and never over them. You also need to be at least 3 nautical miles from a certified airport or a military aerodrome and more than 1 nautical mile from a certified heliport.
You have to meet all of these criteria to stay within the basic operations set of guidelines. As soon as even one doesn’t apply, you are conducting advanced operations. An example of a basic operations flight could be flying your drone in a rural area, or over an open field. Even over a neighborhood is fine, as long as you are not flying within 30m of people and the airspace is uncontrolled, and of course, respecting the privacy of others.
In order to obtain your basic certification, you need to pass an online exam by Transport Canada.
Advanced operations for drones in Canada
Advanced operation applies to any flight conducted with a drone between 250g-25kg in controlled airspace, any flight over bystanders, within 30m of bystanders and within 3 nautical miles from a certified airport or a military aerodrome or 1 nautical mile from a certified heliport.
Having your advanced operations certification opens up many opportunities for locations to fly in. If you use your drone for anything more than a hobby, it’s in your favour to have your advanced certification, even if you don’t technically need your advanced to fly commercially.
In order to obtain your advanced certification, you need to pass an online exam by Transport Canada and complete a flight review. It’s a little bit more involved.
» MORE: For more information on how to get your advanced certification, take a look at the article where I go through the process here – How to Become a Drone Pilot in Canada
General rules for drones in Canada (Applies to both Advanced and Basic Operations)
Whether you need your advanced or basic certification, if you fly a drone, you have to adhere to certain general rules. These rules are:
- Register your drone with Transport Canada (over 250g) and visibly mark your registration number on your drone.
- Survey the area where you are flying and follow your drone manufacturer’s guidelines.
- Fly only within visual line of sight.
- Stay below 122 metres or 400 feet.
- Stay away from emergency operations, advertised events, manned aircraft.
For a complete list of rules, and for any and all specifics, please refer to the Canadian bible of drone laws, the CARs (Canadian Aviation Regulations) and select Part 9 (Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems).
Special Flight Operations Certificate
Let’s say you need to conduct a flight that does not fit within either basic or advanced operations. In that case, you have to get what is called a special flight operations certificate (SFOC).
For example, if you are flying a drone over 25kg, you will need to apply for an SFOC. This certificate allows you to fly outside of the rules, based on the purpose of your flight. You must fill out a form online and provide all the required documentation (it is a paperwork heavy process).
Your application is then reviewed by a Transport Canada representative and may take up to 30 business days to process the request, so if you need to do a quick last-minute flight outside of the rules, forget about it!
This is a very planning-heavy process, as it should be, because it is a riskier flight. Here are the situations in which you would need an SFOC:
- You are a foreign operator (not a Canadian citizen, a Canadian corporation or permanent resident).
- You wish to fly at an advertised event or an aviation event.
- You wish to fly close to a military airport.
- You wish to fly beyond your visual line of sight (BVLOS).
- Your drone is over 25kg.
- You wish to fly above the 122m (400ft) altitude restriction.
- You wish to fly your drone with dangerous payloads.
- You wish to fly more than 5 drones at the same time.
Rules for sub-250g drones in Canada
So you bought a DJI Mini 2 and think you can get away with flying anywhere and nothing applies to you because your drone is under 250g and you don’t need a certificate to fly. Well, unfortunately, you’re wrong.
It’s true that anyone flying a drone under 250g is not bound by the same requirements and regulations as flying a drone over 250g. And yes, you don’t have to get a certificate or register your drone, but there are still rules you need to follow.
You cannot fly your drone in a way that endangers others or aviation safety. This includes anything reckless or negligent, meaning you are flying dangerously on purpose or, for example, you neglected to ensure the area you are flying in is safe.
You are also prohibited from flying in Class F Special Use Restricted Airspace, zones where a NOTAM for Forest Fire Aircraft Operating Restrictions has been emitted, or zones where the use of airspace to all aircraft has been emitted.
In order to ensure a drone pilot of a sub-250g drone flies safely and uses good judgment, Transport Canada has come out with a list of good practices available to the public, which is super helpful.
These good practices are as follows:
- Keep the drone within visual line of sight.
- Do not fly higher than 122m or 400ft.
- Keep a safe distance between the drone and bystanders.
- Stay far away from airports, aerodromes, heliports, and waterdromes.
- Do not fly near critical infrastructures.
- Do not fly near other aircrafts.
- Do a pre-flight inspection of your drone.
- Ensure connection between controller and drone (don’t fly too far).
- Stay away from advertised events.
This is so abundantly clear, but just for those out there who still might not understand, Transport Canada have simplified it even further by stating, “if you feel that your flight is risky, don’t do it.” Simple enough!
Okay, so there are rules and guidelines specific to drones, but we’re not out of the woods just yet in terms of going over the laws you need to adhere to when flying a drone in Canada.
Other rules to keep in mind when flying a drone in Canada
Just because you are flying a drone doesn’t mean that other Canadian laws, more specifically privacy laws and the criminal code suddenly don’t apply. You are not allowed to do anything negligent and dangerous with your drone (as we have seen outlined with the sub 250g drones, but this is applicable to any drone).
Some actions with your drone could be considered breaking and entering, or acts of mischief. When it comes to privacy laws or any laws within the criminal code, it does not matter if drones are not specifically mentioned within the law, the same rules apply. For example, you must not be collecting personal information of others without their consent.
Whether you are flying recreationally or commercially may change the requirements you must respect in terms of privacy. Recreational drone operators need to make sure they are flying responsibly with respect to collection of information. Not only should they avoid capturing private information, but should they do that, they must obtain consent.
For example, if you are tracking a car with your drone and you can clearly see the license plate, you must obtain permission from the owner of that car or whoever’s name that plate is registered to. If you didn’t obtain consent, you must blur out this information.
You also need to respect the boundaries of others, so if someone comes up to you telling you that your drone is infringing on their privacy, you need to be respectful of their requests.
Now, flying commercially means that you must adhere to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), but this all depends on the province you are flying your drone in. Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec have their own private-sector laws for privacy.
In any other province, you must respect the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), which in general, means that when using a drone, you must get consent for collecting, using and disclosing personal information. You must tell your subjects the reason for collecting this information and how to access the piece of work once you share it. For more information on privacy laws with respect to drones, please consult privacy guidelines for drone users.
Although there may be many rules and limitations on how and where you can fly your drone in Canada, it still tops the list of my favorite countries to drone in. Of course, I may be a little biased since I am Canadian, but there are so many different landscapes and seasons to capture here and as long as you stick to the rules. So stay up to date on the CARs and keep exploring!