3 Things I’ve Learned From Drones

3 Things I’ve Learned From Drones


3 Things I’ve Learned From Drones

(and the stories behind the lessons)

I’m an instructor on drones and in airplanes so I have lots of opportunities to teach aviation. Every once in a while, though, aviation flips right back around and returns the favour. Here are 3 lessons I’ve learned from drones and the stories behind them.

Lesson 1: There are lots of ways to forget gear.

Here’s the situation. We’re at the office packing up the vehicles to leave for a flight. The flight location is about 3 hours from the office and about 2 hours from civilization (aka a Walmart). Checklist is out and we’re going through the items.
Jack*: “tablets…check, cables…check, micro SD cards… hey Jill, where are the SD cards?”
Jill: “OH GOOD CALL they’re on my desk”
Now at this point, as we later learned, Jill meant this as “they’re on my desk. Now you know where they are so you can go get them” and Jack interpreted it as “Jill says they’re on her desk, so she’ll grab them before we go”.
You can probably see where this is going. Guess who left without SD cards and only realized once they arrived on site. Yep.

*names have been changed to protect the innocent (and the guilty)

The Lesson:

Despite having (and using! these are different things…) a checklist, you can still forget things. Our lesson and remedy from this scenario was to assign packing duties to one person only. Usually this is the PIC (pilot in command) unless they’ve delegated otherwise. That way we avoid confusion and by giving one person the responsibility, more ownership is taken over the gear.

*names have been changed to protect the innocent (and the guilty)

Lesson 2: ATTI mode can smell fear.

Do you know when a great time to fly in ATTI** mode is? I can tell you when isn’t! Just like Murphy always promised, I was on a narrow dock with railings on either side about a storey up from the water surrounding us. The wind was blowing and I had about 20% battery left. Our GPS connection kept dropping off and throwing the aircraft into ATTI mode where it would drift around in the wind requiring constant and varying corrections. It all worked out okay. I landed without incident but between this and the flight from lesson 3, my heart still starts jumping whenever the DJI low battery sound come on.

**ATTI mode on DJI gear means no GPS or vision positioning systems assistance. Internal sensors only.

The Lesson:

Make your practice sessions some of the hardest flying you do. Fly close to structures and trees and note how your aircraft reacts. Try out all flight modes and make sure you can bring the aircraft back home. Practice reorienting yourself with the aircraft when it’s at a distance. That way, if you encounter these scenarios with the added stress of being on a job site, you’ll be better equipped to deal with it.

Lesson 3: The sun is an obstacle.

Okay, maybe not in the same way as trees or buildings BUT it can be just as limiting. There have been a few flights where I’ve been thankful to have remembered my cheap, non-polarized*** sunglasses but none quite as impactful as the boat flight. As you may have already figured out, we were launching off of the back of a boat. To do this legally in the Vancouver Harbour, we had to be out of the airspace by landing back on the boat by 6:45am; just in time for HeliJet’s first arrival. It was getting close to then so we were getting the last of the shots as the sun crested the mountain range behind us. We had been using the drone’s lights to maintain orientation and line of sight but now, the sun was reflecting off of all the building windows downtown and I lost visual contact. Shortly after this, the aircraft lost GPS, flipped into ATTI mode and my video signal became intermittent. Then the low battery warning kicked in. By the time we regained line of sight and flew back (thanks to some help from the return to home function), I landed on the boat with :48 seconds of power left. It was 6:44. We all lived to fly another day.

*** non-polarized so you can still see screens like the tablets

Lesson learned:

It’s important to think about the sun’s position when you’re flying. You will be staring at the sky for a while, after all. Aside from the obvious issues of sunburn and dehydration, it’s important to note how it may impact your ability to maintain line of sight, even on overcast, but bright days.

BONUS Lesson 4: Weather happens to drones too.

This didn’t happen to me, but to a former student of mine.
It’s late November in Vancouver. It’s one of those low overcast and misty days with the temperature just above 0 degrees. This experimental builder had a new drone to test out and popped it up to test flight characteristics. As the aircraft was hovering, he noticed the sound of the motors chan

ged. Bringing it back, he thought there must be an issue with how he had it configured. Upon inspection, he noticed ice adhering to the underside of all of his propellers! The slight pressure change that happens as lift is produced caused the temperature to drop just low enough for the humidity to freeze onto the propellers. Remember learning about icing risk in ground school? Well it can actually happen! So it’s good to be aware and to listen as well as watch for changes in aircraft performance.

Do you have any good lessons you’ve learned through your flying? Let us know!

Transport Canada’s Regulatory Update from UC18

Transport Canada’s Regulatory Update from UC18

NOTICE: check out our new post about the rules that are now in effect!

At the end of October, Transport Canada presented a regulatory update at Unmanned Canada- Unmanned System Canada’s fall conference in Vancouver, BC. While specifics such as release dates for the highly anticipated regulations were not a part of the announcements, we saw some helpful details that paint a picture of what we can expect. From this, we’re able to illustrate the expected paths to compliance under the new framework.

Before continuing, please note that the information below is what we anticipate will become regulation. These regulations are not yet in force.


  • 2018 is still TC’s goal for regulation release (Canada Gazette 2 – CG2)
  • SFOCs will still be valid following CG2 during the implementation of regulations; a 6-month timeframe
  • SFOCs can still be issued for unique operations during the 6-month implementation period
    • While it wasn’t said, it was implied that operators will be encouraged, after CG2 drop, to work toward the appropriate permit rather than a standing SFOC.
  • There will no longer be a recreational vs. commercial distinction. Operations will be categorized as basic or advanced. A fun flight can be “advanced” and a research project or work for pay can be “basic”.
  • These rules apply to all remotely piloted aircraft between 250g and 25kgs
  • Unmanned Aircraft will be referred to as Drones or RPAS for Remotely Piloted Aircraft System on TC documents moving forward


To decide if you pursue a basic authorization or advanced authorization, the main deciding factor is the class of airspace you intend to operate in. If your flights will only ever be in class G uncontrolled airspace, you may only need a basic certification. If you want to be able to operate in classes C-F, you will need an advanced authorization. The table below provides more information on the regulatory categories for basic and advanced operations.

250g – 25kgs, operated within Visual Line of Sight (VLOS)

Quick reminder on aerodromes. They are any area of land or water, including a frozen surface that is used, designed, prepared or equipped for the arrival, departure, movement or servicing of aircraft. It includes heliports, airports, bodies of water with floatplanes etc.

The administration of the knowledge exams for basic, advanced and flight reviewer will be through Transport Canada’s online Drone Mangement Portal.  This tool will also enable drone registrations.


Flight reviewers must be associated with a training school that provides compliant ground school. The initial round of flight reviewers will be certified to conduct their reviews after passing a flight reviewer exam around the same date as CG2 drop. The next eligible flight reviewers will have to meet the additional requirement of holding an advanced certificate for a period of 6 months before they are able to write the flight reviewer exam.


…ARE A CURRENT STANDING SFOC HOLDER with an SFOC that expires before January 1, 2019

Renew your Standing SFOC as soon as possible.  You’ll be able to operate under your standing SFOC until you complete the new requirements to hold your RPAS certificate.

…ARE A CURRENT STANDING SFOC HOLDER with an SFOC expiring in the spring or summer of 2019

You probably won’t need to renew (particularly if the expiry is after, say, June 2019) if you get moving on your RPAS certificate requirements right away.

…DO NOT YET HAVE A STANDING SFOC and need to fly in January

Get 3 applications + standing application in before the end of the year. If not, you may have some downtime while you gain your certification under the new framework.

…DO NOT YET HAVE A STANDING SFOC and don’t mind being “grounded” for a bit

If it’s reasonable for you to get 3 applications + standing application in before the end of the year, do that. If not, you may have some downtime while you gain your certification under the new framework.

We don’t know exactly when the regulations will come into force, but given the timelines and dates TC has set for themselves, this should play out throughout the spring of 2019.

UPDATE | 2018-11-16

I received a few great questions following the publication of this blog post.

1. What happens to current Ground School certificate holders? Do they have to take an additional exam or will they be grandfathered into the new process without an exam?

  • There will not be any grandfathering through of knowledge. Everyone from Airline Transport Pilot License holders to first-time Phantom fliers will need to write the knowledge exam that is appropriate for the certificate they’re pursuing (basic or advanced).

2. Will current ground school certificate holders have to take the flight school exam?

  • If they’re pursuing an advanced certificate, they’ll need to meet a skill requirement in front of a flight reviewer after they’ve written their advanced knowledge test.

3. We have clients from all over Canada. Will they now have to find a local flight examiner?

  • Yes. Anyone who is currently on the list of compliant training organizations has been contacted by TC to put forth candidates to be flight reviewers. Transport Canada is confident this “first batch” of reviewers will provide adequate coverage for all areas of Canada.

4. We have a national standing SFOC (Complex) as do a few of our clients. Does this get replaced with a permit to fly in the future?

  • Pilots will now be certified to fly individually, rather than under an organization like the SFOC provided. Individuals will need to pursue the appropriate certificate for their intended operations and there may be additional requirements at a company level to ensure consistency in the operations conducted (operations manuals, safety systems, checklists etc)


Transport Canada’s UAV Exemptions

Transport Canada’s UAV Exemptions

There’s a Canadian Aviation Regulation that says all UAV flights need to have an SFOC or Special Flight Operations Certificate.

602.41 No person shall operate an unmanned air vehicle in flight except in accordance with a special flight operations certificate or an air operator certificate.

To allow some low-risk fights to happen without needing to apply for and receive an SFOC, Transport Canada created two sets of exemption requirements – one for aircraft under 1kg and one for aircraft 1kg-25kg. Each list contains a set of requirements that, if all can be abided by, allow the flight to take place without needing prior approval from TC.

To fly under the exemptions, it’s first important to read the actual exemption documents rather than just the accompanying infographics.

Click here for Transport Canada’s Infographic

While all the exemptions are important, the few that typically trip people up are

– Training
– Airspace
– Aerodrome distances

Once you’re sure you’re good to go under the exemptions, let TC know that you’re going to fly using the notification form. You don’t need to hear back from them before you go but they are using this information to get some stats on who is flying, how often and where. As well as probably checking to make sure people aren’t missing key pieces of the requirements.

So to recap:
1. Figure out the weight of your aircraft
2. Read the exemption requirements appropriate for the weight
3. Take any necessary steps to abide by the exemptions (training, etc)
4. Complete the notification form
5. Go flying!

If you find you’re unable to fly under an exemption, stay tuned for an upcoming blog post on the SFOC process and or check out the one about the future of drone regs in Canada.