New Drone Pilots – The Ultimate Canadian Guide
December 26, 2022
You're looking to fly a drone in Canada and have your eyes on doing the Basic Drone Pilot Certificate. Where can you actually fly, and where can't you fly?

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Meet Your New Drone!

If you recently got a drone as a gift or bought one, this is for you. We’ll help you understand different types of drones and how to become a certified pilot.

 

Types of Drones – Which One Is Yours?

First, let’s figure out what type of drone you have. In Canada and most other places, they categorize drones based on their weight. If your drone weighs 249 grams or less, including batteries and anything needed for flying, it’s a “micro drone.”

If your new drone weighs 250 grams or more (up to 25 kilograms or 55 pounds), it’s considered a “small drone.” Some people call it the “Small Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS)” category, but we’ll keep it simple and call it “small drones” or just “drones.”

Just a quick note, if you ever want to fly a drone that’s 25 kilograms or more, you’ll need to get a Special Flight Operation Certificate (SFOC) and an Advanced Pilot Certificate, but that’s more advanced stuff for another time.

DJI Mini 2 Micro-Drone

Micro-Drone Operations

The “This Feels so wrong it must be illegal” category.

Micro-drone operations fall under the radar of normal Canadian small drone laws, with some exemptions that preclude them from going any deeper than the preliminary rules published in CARS 900.

Rule 1 – Don’t be an idiot.

Okay, so that’s paraphrased, but wouldn’t life be simple if that were the case? 

The actual CARs referenced is 900.06 – Reckless or Negligent Operation – which is quoted as to say:

“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.”

Further, micro-drones are considered navigable aircraft, so flight into Class F Restricted (CYR on the Map) airspace is also forbidden without permission from the airspace operator.  Typically, this airspace exists surrounding forest fires, natural disasters, airshows, prisons, and military facilities.  You can find a directory of all airspace in Canada in the TP1820E – Designated Airspace Handbook (DAH). 

Here’s an example of Class F – Restricted Airspace:  

 

Map depicting class F Restricted airspace over Mission Institution.

Mission (CYR140) is class F – Restricted airspace, surrounded by Class G airspace, which means in order to fly within the boundaries of that location, with either a Micro, Basic, or Advanced certificate, you would need to contact the Warden of the prison, not Nav Canada, to obtain permission to fly.

The Designated Airspace Handbook has further details regarding the mission airspace, and all other airspaces in Canada, and is published by Nav Canada either when a new permanent change is required, or on a regular schedule.  Always ensure you have the latest version, otherwise, you might be flying in unknown airspace!

Screenshot of CYR140 Mission Institution airspace information.
The designated airspace handbook cover page.

The Aeronautical Information Manual:

Transport Canada produces a book called Aeronautical Information Manual (TC-AIM) twice yearly. It explains the rules in a more detailed way than the regular Canadian Aviation Regulations. For drone pilots, there’s a whole chapter in this book that’s helpful. It tells you more about how the rules apply to micro-drones. It’s good for both new and experienced pilots. It’s like a guidebook to help you follow the rules better.

 

Micro-Drone Suggested Rules of Thumb:

 

(a) Maintain the micro RPA in direct line of sight.
(b) Avoid flying your micro RPA above 400 ft above ground
level (AGL).
(c) Keep a safe lateral distance between your micro RPA and
other people.
(d) Stay far away from aerodromes, water aerodromes, and
heliports.
(e) Avoid flying near critical infrastructure.
(f) Stay clear of aircraft at all times.
(g) Conduct a pre-flight inspection of your micro RPA.
(h) Keep the micro RPA close enough to maintain the connection with the remote controller.
(i) Follow the manufacturer’s operational guidelines.
(j) Avoid special aviation or advertised events.

 

Cover page of the TC AIM RPA chapter.
The basics for micro-drone operators outlined in a handy info card.
Micro Drone Operations
In the picture, the orange areas show places where you can fly a micro drone, but you need to be careful.

These areas have some dangers like:

  1. Airplanes and helicopters flying in the sky from 500 feet up, or even from the ground in some places. There’s no specific lowest height for them in certain situations, like when they’re practicing or in remote areas. Drones must always give way to these manned aircraft.
  2. Drones can’t fly in Class F CYR and CYD airspace. You’ll find these areas near places like prisons, wildfires, military training zones, or other places that you might not know about until it’s mentioned in a special notice (NOTAM). In Class F CYA airspace, you should also be cautious because there might be low-flying aircraft around.

You can fly a micro drone near people, even above them, but you have to follow CARS 900.06 and be careful not to hurt anyone. You don’t need a parachute for drones under 250 grams, but make sure your drone won’t hurt anyone if it lands.

You can fly a small drone within 3 miles of airports and 1 mile of certified heliports, but you should also check CARS 901.73 and follow those rules along with CARS 900.06.

It’s not a good idea to fly your drone high above 400 feet in controlled airspace. You might get in the way of airplanes and helicopters coming to and from airports. Pilots can’t see drones easily, and even a tiny drone under 250 grams could damage an aircraft’s windshield and make the pilot unable to fly safely.

Free drone tools you should use:

Before you fly a drone, even a micro-sized one, it’s essential to check the area where you plan to fly. This is called a “site survey.” You need to know what’s above you and how you can fly safely.

Nav Drone

For a basic site survey, look at the airspace above you and find the closest airports and places where manned aircraft fly. You can use tools like the NavDrone App and set it to “Micro-Drone” mode to learn about any limitations and nearby restrictions.

NRC Site Selection Tool

The National Research Council of Canada built a site that has a map overlay of all airspace and areas that affect drone pilots in Canada.  The map can be adjusted to show areas only applicable to Micro, Basic, or Advanced drone pilots.

FltPlan.com

If you want to look at proper Visual Navigation Charts published for pilots, you can see them free at FltPlan.com  We have an article about reading charts that’s worth checking out!

UAV Forecast

Another useful free tool for drone pilots is UAV Forecast. It helps you find out about weather conditions that might be risky for flying your drone and also checks the KP Index, which can affect your drone’s GPS signal. It’s a smart way to plan your flights safely.

Learn to fly your micro-drone with confidence:

A drone weighing under 250g does not require the operator to have a pilot certification. However, there is one rule that still applies!

CAR 900.06 Applies to all remotely piloted aircraft, and basically says: “do not fly your aircraft in a manner which could cause a hazard to people in the air or on the ground.”

This course includes everything you need to know when flying your new Mavic Mini or any other sub-250g drone.

dji phantom 4

DJI Air Series

The DJI Air 1,2,3 are typically about 550 grams and require a Basic or Advanced pilot Certificate

DJI Mavic Series

The DJI Mavic 1,2,3 are typically about 900 grams and require a Basic or Advanced pilot Certificate

dji phantom 4

DJI Inspire Series

The DJI Inspire are typically about 3 kilograms and require a Basic or Advanced pilot Certificate

dji phantom 4

DJI Matrice Series

The DJI Enterprise Matrice series are typically about 6-12 kilograms and require a Basic or Advanced pilot Certificate

Small Drone Operations

Most drone operations in Canada over 250 grams will fall under this category.

The entirety of CARS 901 (Part IX Subpart 1) is dedicated to small drone operations which means, any remotely piloted aircraft system that weighs from 250 grams up to 25 kg.

These operations are broken down into two categories:  Basic Operations, and Advanced Operations.  Basic Operations are intended for low-risk drone flights that are well separated from urban activity and airport operations, and outside of controlled airspace.  In order to fly any 250g+ drone in Canada, the pilot must have at least a Basic Pilot Certificate, in addition to registering the drone with Transport Canada.

Within the small drone weight category, operations are categorized under a risk-based approach, in the sense that the closer you get to risk, the higher the certification and oversight required becomes.  As you get closer to people, airports, heliports, and controlled airspace, you will need to obtain an Advanced Pilot Certificate.

Breakdown between Basic and Advanced Operations
Where you can, and can't fly with a Basic Certificate.

BASIC RPAS Operations

A drone pilot in Canada may perform the following flights with a Basic Pilot Certificate:

  • More than 3NM (5.6KM) away from Airports.
  • More than 1NM (2KM) away from Heliports.
  • Outside of Controlled Airspace.
  • More than 100 ft (30 Meters) horizontal distance away from persons not considered essential to the drone operation (bystanders).
  • Drone must be kept within visual line of sight at all times. (This includes FPV, where a spotter must be used.)
  • Drone must not be flown more than 400′ above ground at any time, except within 200′ of a structure, and only 100′ above that structure.

How to obtain your Basic Pilot Certificate:

Create a profile on the Drone Management Portal, and register your drone.

You will need to be a minimum 14 years of age to qualify for the Basic Pilot Certificate.

Study for the Basic Online Exam with our online, on-demand training course and sample test questions.  Take the online test, and pass with a score of 65% or better.

Develop your own checklists and standard operating procedures for site surveys, pre-flight, flight, and emergencies as required by CARS, with help from our included standard operating procedures guide.

Every 24 months, ensure you maintain your pilot certificate by completing an approved recency exercise.

Where you can, and cant without permission, fly with an Advanced Certificate.

Advanced RPAS Operations

To qualify for Advanced Drone operations in Canada, there are several requirements on both the pilot and the drone (RPAS) to be used for the advanced flight.

Advanced Pilot Requirements:

To conduct advanced operations, the pilot in command must complete the Advanced Online Exam with a passing score of 80% or better and subsequently complete a TP15395 Flight Review, which is an in-person knowledge and proficiency exercise.

The flight review is required before an Advanced Pilot Certificate can be issued.  The flight review typically takes about 90 minutes and involves a document and procedure review, a verbal knowledge confirmation, and finally a flight skill demonstration.

Advanced Drone Requirements:

Transport Canada considers 3 drone operations (within the scope of 250g-25kg flights) to be routine Advanced Operations:

  1. Flights Near People (Less than 30M horizontal distance to bystanders, but not closer than 5M)
  2. Flights Over People (Less than 5M horizontal distance to bystanders, at any approved altitude)
  3. Flight in Controlled Airspace (Class A, B, C, D, E)

To qualify for flights in any of the three above scenarios, the drone must be accompanied by a Manufacturer’s Safety Assurance Declaration specific to the category of flight in which the drone has been proven to be safely operated.  There are specific criteria that the drone must demonstrate capabilities in, to be accurately declared considered safe to fly.

For example, to fly in Over-People operations, most multi-rotor quadcopters would require some sort of ballistic recovery device, such as a parachute, to arrest the rate of descent in the event of a systems failure and prevent injury to persons below the drone.  This declaration often includes a minimum operating altitude to allow for the parachute to deploy safely.

You can’t just fly anywhere:

Holders of an Advanced Pilot Certificate and approved drone aren’t automatically approved to conduct Advanced operations wherever they see fit.  To fly in controlled airspace, approval from the Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP), Nav Canada for the most part, is required before take-off.  This usually involved NavDrone, which is an app submitting for time-limited, region-specific flight authorization requests.

Advanced RPAS Operations:

Upon registration of a drone weighing 250 grams or more, and upon completion of the Advanced Online exam and in-person flight review, a drone pilot in Canada may perform the following flights with an Advanced Pilot Certificate:

  • Flights near and over Airports with coordination with the operator.
  • Flights near and over Heliports with coordination with the operator. 
  • Flights in controlled airspace with approval from the Air Navigation Service Provider
  • Flights near and over people, with appropriate manufacturer’s safety assurance declaration.
  • Drone must be kept within visual line of sight at all times. (This includes FPV, where a spotter must be used.)
  • Drone must not be flown more than 400′ above ground at any time, except within 200′ of a structure, and only 100′ above that structure.

How to obtain your Advanced Pilot Certificate:

If you haven’t already been flying under Basic operations, create a profile on the Drone Management Portal, and register your drone.

 You will need to be a minimum of 16 years of age to qualify for the Advanced Pilot Certificate.

Study for the Advanced Online Exam with our online, on-demand training course and sample test questions, and write the exam with a passing grade of 80% or better.

Develop your own checklists and standard operating procedures for site surveys, pre-flight, flight, and emergencies as required by CARS with help from our included SOP Guide.

Demonstrate your operational procedures, knowledge, and skills with a Transport Canada-approved flight reviewer in person.

Every 24 months, ensure you maintain your pilot certificate by completing an approved recency exercise.

The Special Flight Operations Certificate

 

CARS 901, or IX Subpart 1, covers normal drone operations, or VLOS drone operations within the 250g to 25kg weight category.  The limitations within that category are well defined, as well as the consequences for ignoring the laws.

However, there may be a legal need for you to break the law, so to say, or fly beyond the limits of CARS 901.  Enter CARS 903, or IX Subpart 3, which is a section of drone laws reserved for complex drone operations that require a special flight operations certificate, or SFOC.

SFOCs are issued by Transport Canada in a limited fashion for novel circumstances that justify flights beyond current routine operations.  This may include emergency services, testing, agriculture, and cinematography.

Typically, as of most recent information from Transport Canada, these SFOCs are issued for a 12-month period and take a minimum of 30 business days to process, upon receipt of the complete application package.

As of recent stats, only about 150 or so SFOCs have been granted in the preceding year, so you can certainly understand the level of complexity and novelty required for the certificates to be issued.

SFOCs are typically requested for flights:

  • beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS),
  • flights near military aerodrones,
  • over 400′ in uncontrolled airspace,
  • aerial application of agriculture products,
  • heavy-lift operations over 25kg,
  • flights carrying hazardous payloads,
  • or for flights over and near advertised events or special aviation events.

Foreign pilot SFOCs are also regularly requested, in order to operate a drone that is not domestically owned.  More information about the updated foreign pilot information can be found in our Foreign Pilot SFOC guidance package.

Want to learn more?

This content and more is covered extensively in our five-star online drone pilot ground school. We offer both Basic and Advanced online training courses to help you get ready for the Transport Canada online exams at your own pace from the comfort of your home.

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