Where Can I Fly My Drone? A Primer on Canadian Airspace

While airports and airspace often go hand in hand, there are a lot of misconceptions and misinformation about where airspace exists and what it means. Let’s take a look at the classes of airspace and then talk about what it means for you as a drone pilot.

Firstly, airspace in Canada is given a letter to identify it’s “class” or type. These classes range A through G and let you know what to expect from other aircraft and what to expect from NavCanada which is our national airspace authority.

Class A and B

These two airspace types you probably won’t (and shouldn’t) encounter anytime soon. Class B starts at 12 500’ and extends just up until class A which begins at 18 000’. While there’s a cool video of RC Explorer piloting a flying wing down from well above those altitudes (legally, I think) it’s not something you’ll typically see a need for or approval for in Canada.

Class C

Class C airspace is common around airports ranging from big international hubs to some local/regional airports as well. Class C starts at the ground and typically has a radius between 3, 5 or 7NM from the centre of the aerodrome. Factors like other airports, terrain and busyness determine how large this radius is. Airspace isn’t always round, either, for similar reasons.
You can remember that class C requires a clearance. This means there is an air traffic controller usually in a 2-3 storey tower on the airport grounds who issues permissions or directives called clearances to all aircraft. Drones included! Before you fly in class C airspace, you need to get ATC approval and this process varies depending on where in Canada you’re flying. This form provides some further guidance.

Class D

Class D is similar to class C and looks pretty much the same on a map. There may or may not be a ground station on site at class D aerodromes. The books geared for manned aviation say you don’t require a clearance, but you do need to establish dialogue with the controllers before operating within it. From a UAV perspective, however, your process is the same.

For both class C and D, your best bet is to get in touch with the NavCanada regional office (usually through this form) and follow their instructions for coordination.

Class E

Class E typically surrounds airports as well. It can be two types – MF for mandatory frequency and ATF for aerodrome traffic frequency. MFs, as the name implies, require all operating within the defined area to be listening and talking on frequency. ATFs, on the other hand, are essentially just a frequency that you can talk on, if you wish. Some NORDO (no radio) aircraft will operate in ATF so it doesn’t guarantee you’ll get a response to your radio calls anyhow.

Class F

Class F comes in three types, two of which you’re likely to encounter – CYA and CYRs. CYA is an advisory area. These areas are marked on maps to show locations where there’s a designated activity taking place. This could be flight training, helicopter operations, aerobatics, parachuting- all kinds of things! Many of the types of activities taking place can bring aircraft all the way to the ground or very close to it, making it unsafe for UAV flight unless some coordination is taking place between pilots. No recreational or exemption flights can take place within class F and those applying for an SFOC will have to show how they plan on ensuring they can operate safely given the activities taking place.
CYR class F is restricted airspace. CYRs cover things like prisons, forest fire areas, airshows, and military areas. They are no-go zones unless you’ve coordinated with the agency that controls the institution. You can find that information in the Designated Airspace Handbook (DAH) or by clicking the airspace bubble on this site.

Class G

Class G is your controlled airspace. Though it may not seem like it, Class G is most of Canada’s airspace. While there’s no one to coordinate with for airspace permission in class G, there can still be MF and ATF aerodromes that you may need/want to communicate with. For these class G aerodromes, the Canada Flight Supplement will identify what frequency those operating at the aerodrome will be on, and what distance from the aerodrome that begins. For example, the Chilliwack airport in BC.

You can see from these two images (first from the VFR Terminal Area Chart and the second from the Canadian Airspace Viewer) that there is no airspace directly over Chilliwack’s airport. There is, however, a mandatory frequency that pilot’s must be on when operating in the vicinity of Chilliwack. We know that from the Canadian Flight Supplement.

This splice taken from the CFS page for Chilliwack shows that anytime an aircraft is within 3NM and below 2000′, it is mandatory (MF) that they’re on frequency 122.7. If that last part got a little intense, we’ll have more for you in a future post dedicated all toward the CFS.

An easy way for drone pilots to find out what the requirements are for any location is to sign up for AirMarket’s FlySafe map. It’s free for the first month! This isn’t sponsored, we just really like them and think you might too.