In recent years, drones have become an increasingly popular hobby for people of all ages. Department stores all over the country have begun to stock drones as part of their regular inventory, with models ranging in price from the low hundreds to thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, many retailers do not inform customers of the legal requirements associated with owning and operating a drone in Canada. You will not see any notices around the sales displays or general requirement for sales staff to inform the public prior to purchase. This can create a situation where a purchaser invests thousands of dollars in a drone without knowing or being told they may not be able to use it.
What may be surprising to some consumers is that there are very stringent laws surrounding the ownership and operation of drones. Similar to a motor vehicle, a drone must be registered when purchased and the operator must be licensed. These facts, however, are not common knowledge, leading many Canadian’s to unknowingly break the law. Prior to purchasing a drone, it is important to understand all of the legalities surrounding ownership and operation.
As of June 1, 2019, all drones that are operational and weigh between 250 grams and less than 25 kilograms must be registered with Transportation Canada through the Drone Management Portal. Drones that weigh less than 250 grams do not need to be registered and drones that weigh more than 25 kilograms do not need to be registered but do require a special flight operations certificate. Once a drone has been registered, the pilot must mark the drone with the registration number prior to taking flight.
According to the Canadian government, a drone is considered an aircraft and as such, those who operate drones weighing more than 250 grams must have a valid drone pilot’s certificate. All drone pilots are subject to the rules of the Canadian Aviation Regulations. Drone pilot certificates are divided into two categories; basic and advanced.
An individual is conducting basic operations when the drone is being flown in uncontrolled airspace, more than 100 feet horizontally from bystanders and never above bystanders. A drone pilot that is conducting basic operations need only obtain a basic operations drone pilot certificate. Such a certificate can be obtained online on Transportation Canada’s website, after the pilot passes an online quiz. To be eligible individuals must be at least 14 years of age. Due to the complex nature of aeronautics, it is highly recommended than pilots attend drone flight school prior to attempting the online quiz.
If any one of the above conditions are not met, the pilot is engaging in advanced operations and must obtain an advanced operations drone pilot certificate. An individual is conducting advanced operations when they are flying a drone in controlled airspace, over bystanders or within 100 feet horizontally of bystanders. The test for obtaining an advanced operations certificate is more complex than the basic test and is called the small advanced operations exam. Pilots have 60 minutes to complete 50 multiple choice questions and must score 80% to pass. To be eligible pilots must be at least 16 years of age.
In addition to passing the advanced operations exam, a pilot must also pass a flight review with a flight reviewer before they can obtain their advanced certificate. To schedule a flight review, pilots can contact any drone flight school directly to schedule the review. The pilot must provide the reviewer with their Certificate of Registration for the drone being used in the review, a valid piece of government issued ID that states their full name and date of birth and a physical or digital copy of the results of their small advanced operations exam.
Where can I Fly my Drone?
Prior to flying your drone it is important to survey the flight area and consult Notice to Airmen (NOTAMs), the Canada Flight Supplement, the Designated Airspace Handbook and the appropriate aeronautical charts. It is important to remember that you are sharing airspace with other pilots. No prior approval is needed for a drone to be flown in uncontrolled airspace. However, if an individual wants to fly their drone in controlled airspace, they must first obtain air traffic control approval from NAV CANADA. Additionally, a drone pilot flying in controlled airspace must also maintain communications with air traffic control personnel for the duration of the flight.
In addition to flying in controlled airspace, certain airspace has additional restrictions. Individuals flying drones must not fly within 5.6 kilometers of any airport listed as Certified in the Canada Flight Supplement and 1.9 kilometers of any helicopter or aerodrome that is used only by helicopters. Drone pilots are also restricted from taking off or landing their drone within a national park or within the security perimeter of an emergency zone such as an accident scene, police security perimeter or first responder operation. Additionally, drone pilots must not fly near sites of natural disasters or anywhere else that might interfere with emergency operations. Drone pilots are prohibited from flying near or over advertised events unless they first obtain a special flight operations certificate that specifically permits them to do so.
Penalties for Failure to Abide by Drone Legislation
Flying a drone without first obtaining the proper licensing can lead to serious consequences. Failure to properly register or mark a drone can result in a $1,000 fine for an individual pilot or $5,000 for a corporation. Flying a drone without a valid pilot’s certificate can result in a $1,000 fine for individuals and $5,000 fine for corporations. Flying a drone in a restricted area may result in a $1,000 fine for individuals and a $5,000 fine for corporations. Finally, flying a drone in a manner that puts bystanders at risk may result in a $3,000 fine for individuals and a $15,000 fine for corporations. As such, it is important to fully understand the licencing and registration requirements prior to operating a drone.