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)


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