Requirements to Fly a Drone in Canada

Requirements to Fly a Drone in Canada

August 29, 2020 · 10 min. readThis article may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

The past few years have seen a boom in drone photography, but their usefulness goes beyond just pretty pictures and Instagram likes. You can use drones to survey fields, inspect the damage on a property, examine the area below bridges and, of course, take awesome selfies. But flying a drone needs to be taken seriously. Not only are drones dangerous, but they are also considered an aircraft – and you need to be certified to operate them.

According to Transport Canada regulations, any drone between 250g (0.5lbs) to 25kg (55lbs) needs to be operated by a certified pilot and be registered with Transport Canada. This means, of course, that drones under 250g do not need to be certified or licenced.  Manufacturers have made drones around this regulation, such as the DJI Mavic Mini which is exactly 249g.

However, Transport Canada guidelines may change so I recommend you consider getting certified anyway. Unlike driving a car that takes weeks of classes and a $100 road exam, getting your drone certificate only costs $10. As well, registering your drone only costs $5.

Flying in Weyburn during the day

While the cost isn't very expensive, taking the exam can be daunting. There are two possible exams to take, the "Basic Operations Exam" or the "Advanced Operations Exam". Both of which will provide you with their corresponding certificate. For most people, the Basic Operations Certificate is enough. This will allow you to fly a drone to a maximum of 120 meters (400 feet) in any uncontrolled airspace (except for restricted areas, like Parks Canada). It also restricts you from flying the drone above people, crowds, during concerts or parades. For the average flyer, the Basic Operations Certificate meets the majority of your recreational needs.

The Advanced Operations Certificate allows more flexibility in where you can fly but pre-approval is still needed by the airspace operators. For example, if I want to use my drone in Regina, I have to go through several different layers of airspace operators to get approval since there are three airspaces in the city (the municipality, the airport and the helicopter pad at the General Hospital). To see where these airspaces are, you can visit the National Research Council's website for an interactive map.

Wascana Trails

If you ignore these regulations, you can be fined $1,000 for flying without a certificate, $1,000 for flying without registering the drone, $1,000 for flying where you aren't allowed, and $3,000 for putting people at risk. If you are a corporation, the fines are $5,000, $5,000, $5,000 and $15,000 respectively.

So it is much easier just to pay the $10 to take the exam and the $5 to register the drone.

When it comes to your exam, you will be covering a lot of information, such as laws, regulations, atmospheric conditions, time zones and operation best practices. Transport Canada provides links to all of these, and the online test is open book so you don't have to memorize all the information.

Don Joyce's YouTube video "Study Guide for the 2019 Canadian Drone Pilot Basic Operations Exam" is an excellent resource for this. While it is illegal to share the questions in the exam, he breaks down the 35 questions in the exam into topics and then explains what material is needed to read to understand each topic. He references five documents in his video, and I used all five for my exam. They are:

  1. New Canadian drone ("RPA") regulations
  2. Knowledge Requirements for the drone pilots
  3. Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM):
  4. Canadian Aviation Regulations (CAR):
  5. The Transport Canada Drone Safety website

Joyce recommends spending 10-12 hours studying the content prior to the exam, but I personally feel that is a little much. Although first-time pass rates are low, I took and passed the Basic Operations Exam on my first try without any studying. I used his documents as a reference and was able to answer most of the questions without any problem. The ones I did struggle with – and Joyce mentions this in the video – are ones that reference how to fly in restricted airspaces, something that you won't be doing wth a Basic Operations Certificate anyway.

The Basic Operations Exam is 35 questions over 90 minutes, while the Advanced Operations Exam is 50 questions over 60 minutes. Additionally, the Basic Operations Exam required a pass rate of 65% while the Advanced Operations Exam requires a pass rate of 80%.  

Because the world isn't perfect, situations may come up where you may have to fly your drone in restricted airspace while only having a Basic Operations Certificate. This happened to me when I had to repair my drone's blade after a take-off collision. I needed to test the blades, but I didn't want to drive outside the city to do so. To fly your drone in restricted airspace – at least in the case of my 300g DJI Spark – I had to create a DJI account, locate the airspaces I was flying in, get an approval code to my device and check off several agreement boxes on both the computer and my phone. From there, I only had a 24-hour limit to fly my drone. Although I was only flying it indoors to test the blades, I still had to go through the entire process as if I was flying it outdoors.

Flying the drone at night

I can only speak for my experience with the DJI Spark (although I expect the DJI Mavic Mini is similar) but DJI drones can sync up to a controller, referred to as an RDC, which you can then connect to your mobile phone. This gives you the ability to see what the drone sees, as well as change camera angles, record videos and set up your Instagram worthy shots. If you are flying your drone away from you – say a kilometre away and 100 meters into the sky – there is a bit of a delay between telling the drone to take a picture or video and it actually happening.

Thankfully, the DJI drone app – DJI GO 4 (Google Playstore and Apple iOS Store) – previews the videos and pictures in real-time on your phone. The quality isn't as good as the footage on the drone and the videos often have rendering lines across them, but the footage it takes is still crisp. The only thing you need to guarantee sharp images is to add a micro SD card inside the drone. Without it, your pictures will be a much lower quality as they are sent long distances over wifi.

(Such as the following two pictures.) Image sent over wifi Another image sent over wifi

If you are flying a drone, be sure to always bring another person with you. This is not just for safety either. You need a co-pilot to help watch the sky for obstacles, such as birds, power lines, aircrafts, or storm systems. According to Transport Canada law, this co-pilot needs to keep the drone in sight at all times, and always have clear, non-obstructed communication with the pilot.

Sunset from the drone

One of the most surprising things I discovered about flying a drone is how it reacts to wind currents. For the most part, the wind is just a nuisance that we constantly live with. But for a drone, it is an opposing force that will push and pull the aircraft in every direction. While a light breeze at ground level is nothing, from 100 feet into the sky your drone might be getting thrown around. Be sure to always practice safe flying, no matter the weather conditions.

Flying a drone is fun and exciting, but it does come with a level of responsibility. If you choose to fly a drone, you could go with the option of getting an aircraft that is below the 250g weight limit, but I encourage you to get certified, get registered and fly the skies with the knowledge you need.

Do you have any other questions about flying a drone? Feel free to ask me in the comments below!

Don't forget to pin it!

How to Fly a Drone in Canada How to Fly a Drone in Canada

And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.

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According to Transport Canada regulations, any drone between 250g (0.5lbs) to 25kg (55lbs) needs to be operated by a certified pilot and be registered with Transport Canada. This means, of course, that drones under 250g do not need to be certified or licenced.  Manufacturers have made drones around this regulation, such as the DJI Mavic Mini which is exactly 249g.

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