Canadian Drone Certifications (+a bonus you’ll want to know about!)

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Looking to fly your drone in Canada? We enlisted the help of Coastal Drone, Canada’s leader in drone training to break down the certification requirements for drone pilots in Canada. 

Drone

Transport Canada, Canada’s Federal aviation agency, does not have intent-based regulation. It doesn’t matter if you’re flying for fun or for work, the rules are the same and depend instead on the risk involved in your flight. The risk is judged on the weight of the drone, and where you want to fly.

Basic Certificate

A Basic Certification is needed to fly any drone between 250g and 25kg:

  • In uncontrolled airspace
  • Further than 3 NM from airports and 1 NM from heliports
  • Further than 100’ (30m) from bystanders

The process to getting a Basic Drone Pilot Certification is pretty straight forward. You must write and pass the Transport Canada exam for Basic Operators. The exam is online and administered via the Drone Management Portal (DMP). You'll first need to either create a GCKey or login using online banking information to create an account before you can write the exam. To pass, you need to score 60% or above on 35 multiple choice questions in 90 minutes. This exam is intended to be open-book, so come prepared with resources (like the ones provided in Coastal Drone’s training!) and learn how to use the CTRL + F function on your keyboard to search for key terms in electronic documents.

Once you have successfully written the exam, you will be immediately issued a certification which can be printed from your DMP profile or saved electronically to a device you'll always have on site with you. 

Now that you're certified, it is expected that you know, understand and will follow the regulations applicable to Basic Category pilots. In addition to all the other applicable items listed in the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs), you will need to:

  • Carry a copy of your certificate with you each time you fly
  • Carry a copy of your registration with you each time you fly
  • Keep a drone manual handy for all crew members each time you fly
  • Create and maintain and use Standard Operating Procedures (site survey, normal and emergency procedures) each time you fly
  • The CARs identify specific items that need to be in these checklists (and the Coastal Drone Basic Online bundle includes a guide with downloadable templates!)

Operate only where allowed. The NRC Drone Site Selection Tool is handy for these determinations.

Advanced Certificate

An Advanced Certification is needed to fly any drone between 250g and 25kg:

  • In controlled airspace
  • Closer than 3 NM from airports and 1 NM from heliports
  • Closer than 100’ (30m) from bystanders 
  • Though this also depends on what your drone is declared safe to do by the manufacturer

The process to getting an Advanced Drone Pilot Certification has two steps. You must write and pass the Transport Canada exam for Advanced Operators and then complete an in-person assessment called a Flight Review. 

The exam is online and administered via the Drone Management Portal (DMP). You'll first need to either create a GCKey or login using online banking information to create an account before you can write the exam. To pass, you need to score 80% or above on 50 multiple choice questions in 60 minutes. This exam is intended to be open-book but you won't have time to look everything up so come prepared with resources (like the ones provided in Coastal Drone’s training!) and learn how to use the CTRL + F function on your keyboard to search for key terms in electronic documents. 

Once you have successfully written the exam, you will be immediately issued a basic certification which can be printed from your DMP profile or saved electronically to a device you'll always have on site with you. 

Now that you're certified, you can go out and practice and build skill in the basic environment to prepare for your flight review. 

It is expected that you know, understand and will follow all the other applicable items listed in the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs) such as: 

  • Carry a copy of your certificate with you each time you fly
  • Carry a copy of your registration with you each time you fly
  • Keep a drone manual handy for all crew members each time you fly
  • Create and maintain and use Standard Operating Procedures (site survey, normal and emergency procedures) each time you fly
  • The CARs identify specific items that need to be in these checklists (and the Coastal Drone Advanced Online and Advanced Pilot bundles includes a guide with downloadable templates!)

Use this time between the exams to practice the use of your checklists so the first time you use them isn't on your flight review! Believe me, your reviewer can tell. :)

Once you've passed your flight review, your reviewer will submit the results on the DMP and shortly after, you'll be able to access your advanced certification! 

Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC)

An SFOC gives you permission to operate your drone outside the rules for a specific purpose. You need this certificate if you want to fly your drone outside the rules for basic or advanced operations. This includes if you’re not a citizen or permanent resident in Canada as the previously mentioned certifications aren’t available to you. Instead, check out Coastal’s guidance for Foreign Pilots. 

You might be eligible to get an SFOC if:

  • your drone weighs over 25 kilograms (kg)
  • you want to fly your drone beyond the visual line-of-sight
  • you are not a Canadian citizen, permanent resident of Canada or a corporation incorporated by or under the laws of Canada or a province
  • you want to fly your drone at higher altitudes
  • you want to fly more than five drones at the same time
  • you want to fly at a special aviation event or an advertised event
  • you want to fly your drone carrying dangerous or hazardous payloads (e.g. chemicals)
  • you want to fly closer to a military airport

The process to apply for an SFOC is pretty straight forward, but can get more complex depending on the risk involved in what SFOC activity you’re looking to complete. You’ll first submit a completed application to Transport Canada and work with an inspector and their checklist to ensure you’ve provided all the necessary supporting information for them to approve your application. 

The Bonus: Micro Drones

If you’re flying something under 250g, Transport Canada has determined the risk to be low enough that only the following regulation applies.

Canadian Aviation Regulation (CAR) 900.06  - No person shall operate a remotely piloted aircraft system in such a reckless or negligent manner as to endanger or be likely to endanger aviation safety or the safety of any person

PLAIN LANGUAGE - we call this the “don’t be an idiot” rule. Don’t fly where you might hurt/endanger/put at risk someone else using the airspace or on the ground under your drone.

Other than that, Transport Canada doesn’t provide any prescriptive regulations to pilots of micro drones.

  • Flights in all classes of airspace including controlled (classes A-F) airspace are okay (just don’t be a hazard)
  • Flights near airports are okay (just don’t be a hazard)
  • Flights over people, roadways, railways, buildings and bridges are okay (just don’t be a hazard)
  • There are no prescriptive restrictions (ie distance requirements like 30m or altitude restrictions) placed on micro RPAS (but don't be a hazard)
  • Flight as a foreign pilot are okay (but don’t be a hazard)

If an area is a Class F Restricted airspace, don’t fly in it. You’d have a hard time proving this wasn’t hazardous as those areas are restricted to aircraft due to the fact they overly prisons or military areas etc. Use the NRC Site Selection tool to identify these areas.

Other Regulations to Know

Now, there are other rules that you need to follow aside from Transport Canada. Typically these regulations will just say they apply to “RPAS” or "model aircraft" or “UAV” or “drones” and not specify a weight limit. Because of this, they will apply to micro RPAS as well as those above 250g (sRPAS or small RPAS are 250g to 25kg). No one other than NAV CANADA has permission (delegated to them by Transport Canada) to restrict access to airspace but it doesn’t mean they won’t try. If you get fined for overflying a park, for example, it won’t hold up in court but it might not stop them from fining you in the first place. Other laws to be aware of:

  • National parks do not allow RPAS without prior permission
  • Most provincial parks do not allow RPAS without prior permission (Saskatchewan allows them)
  • Most municipal governments will have bylaws preventing drone use on city property including parks, sidewalks and roads without prior permission. (and this includes launching from the roof of your car or boat)
  • Other things like the Migratory Bird Act and Criminal Code and Privacy Act apply too. A heuristic with wild animals is if you're close enough for them to notice you, you're too close.

For your first flight, find an open area, away from people, and learn how to interpret the screen, use your app and control your aircraft in different orientations. And if you have questions, always better to ask. Guaranteed you’re not the first person who has thought of it, but you might be the first to ask.


Have any questions about what you just read? Visit coastaldrone.co or email info@coastaldrone.co for more information!

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