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Canada Announces New Drone Laws That Allow Recreational and Commercial Pilots to Operate Under Same Rules | Plans to Implement June 2019

BY Isabella Lee
16 January 2019

Canda’s national aviation authority, Transport Canada Civil Aviation (TCCA), has announced new drone regulations to take effect June 1, 2019. These new regulations differ significantly from regulations in the U.S.

Drone Laws Canada

The new regulations will be divided into two categories: basic and advanced operations. The changes will apply to drones that:

  • weigh 250 grams (g) up to and including 25 kilograms (kg), and
  • are operated within the drone pilot’s visual-line-of-sight

Before we get into the new regulations, let’s see what Canda’s drone laws currently look like. Or, you can jump straight to the new regulations.

Background on Canada’s Existing Drone Laws

Canada’s current drone laws differentiate recreational from commercial drone pilots and accordingly apply different regulations to each group.

Canada Flag New Drone Rules

Commercial drone pilots operating a drone that weighs more than 25 kg are required to obtain a special flight operations certificate (SFOC). To obtain an SFOC, the drone pilot is required to:

  • Attend a mandatory training through an approved drone flight school
  • Complete an Application for a Special Flight Operations Certificate form
  • Send the form and other required documents to the Civil Aviation regional office

Recreational drone pilots who operate a drone that weighs less than 35 kg do not need to undergo any training to fly their drone. However, they must follow a set of safety rules for recreational flyers.

A History of Fickle Rules for Recreational Drone Operators

There’s been a lot of back-and-forth surrounding the rules for recreational flyers, with the TCCA tightening and then later loosening the rules.

In March 2017, TCCA announced stricter rules for recreational drone pilots, which were not well received by the public. In particular, the requirement to remain 75 meters (246 ft.) from buildings, vehicles, vessels, animals, people, and crowds was viewed to be particularly limiting. This prevented drone flights in most urban areas, and even flights in somewhat inhabited areas were virtually impossible. The TCCA also established a fine of up to $3,000 for violations.

Three months later, TCCA again revised the rules for recreational flyers, only this time the rules were relaxed. Most notable in the revision was the reduction of distance required to be kept from vehicles and people. It was reduced from 75 meters to 30 meters—a more realistic allowance for those flying anywhere near a town or city.

However, with the new drone regulations taking effect June 2019, recreational drone pilots will no longer operate under a set of rules separate from commercial drone pilots.

Canada’s New Drone Laws

Positive reactions to the new regulations signal that Canda has found a more balanced approach to ensuring drones are operated responsibly and safely.

DJI, an international leader in drones and aerial technology, issued a statement praising Canada’s modernized drone rules:

The regulatory framework published strikes a sensible balance between protecting public safety and bringing the benefits of drone technology to Canadian businesses and the public at large.

—Brendan Schulman, Vice President of Policy & Legal Affairs at DJI.

Here’s what we found in our review of Canada’s new drone rules:

1. You need to identify your operations as ‘Basic’ or ‘Advanced’

Canda’s new drone regulations require the operator to determine whether his/her operations are basic or advanced.

If you meet all three of these conditions, you’re conducting basic operations:

  • You fly your drone in uncontrolled airspace
  • You fly your drone more than 30 meters (100 feet) horizontally from bystanders
  • You never fly your drone over bystanders

If you do not meet any one of the above three conditions, you are conducting advanced operations.

And, if you meet any one of the below conditions, you are conducting advanced operations:

  • You want to fly in controlled airspace
  • You want to fly over bystanders
  • You want to fly within 30 meters (100 feet) of bystanders (measured horizontally)

2. Follow these rules for ‘Basic’ drone operations

In addition to the general rules for flying a drone in Canada, pilots conducting basic drone operations must:

  • Pilots conducting basic operations need a Pilot Certificate – Basic Operations
  • Be able to show your Pilot Certificate – Basic Operations and proof of registration when you fly

3. Follow these rules for ‘Advanced’ drone operations

In addition to the general rules for flying a drone in Canada, pilots conducting advanced drone operations must:

  • Pilots conducting advanced operations need a Pilot Certificate – Advanced Operations. To get this certificate, they must pass the Small Advanced Exam and an in-person flight review. The flight review will assess a pilot’s ability to operate their drone safely.
  • Fly with a drone that meets RPAS Safety Assurance standards. A list of drone manufacturers and models rated to be approved for certain advanced operations can be found here.
  • Survey the area where you will fly. Take note of any obstacles, such as buildings and power lines.

4. Follow all general rules whether your operations are ‘Basic’ or ‘Advanced’

The following rules apply to all basic and advanced drone operations.

  • All drones that weigh between 250 g and 25 kg must be registered with Transport Canada. Pilots must mark their drones with their registration number before they fly.
  • All pilots of drones that weigh between 250 g and 25 kg must get a drone pilot certificate.
  • Fly your drone where you can see it at all times
  • Fly below 122 meters (400 feet) in the air
  • Fly away from bystanders, at a minimum distance of 30 meters for basic operations
  • Do not fly at the site of emergency operations or advertised events
  • Avoid forest fires, outdoor concerts, and parades
  • Do not fly within 5.6 kilometres (3 nautical miles) from airports or 1.9 kilometres (1 nautical mile) from heliports
  • Fly far away from other aircraft
  • Do not fly anywhere near airplanes, helicopters, and other drones
  • Always respect the privacy of others while flying

For regularly updated information on Canada’s regulations, bookmark our guide to Canada’s drone laws.

Canda’s New Approach Takes a Turn From U.S. Precedent

The intended use of the drone has long been the distinguishing factor in U.S. drone regulations. In simple terms, recreational drone pilots fly under Section 336 and commercial drone pilots fly under Part 107. Many Western countries, such as France, Italy, and the United Kingdom follow the same structure within their drone regulations as well. Canada followed this pattern too, until the announcement of their new regulations to take effect this June.

The distinction between recreational and commercial operations will be removed once the new Canda drone laws are implemented. This is a huge turn from how drones are regulated in the U.S. The new distinction will be based on distance from bystanders and on airspace rules. The rules drone pilots follow will depend on whether they fly ‘basic’ or ‘advanced’ operations.

With this arrangement, some hobbyist and commercial drone pilots will operate under the same rules.

While the structure of the new regulations differs from the U.S., some of the allowances made for drone pilots are now more on par with what’s allowed in the U.S.

Previously, recreational drone pilots in Canada were not allowed to fly above 90 meters (295 feet). Under the new rules, recreational drone pilots can now fly up to 122 meters (400 feet) in the air. This is much like in the U.S. where recreational and commercial drone pilots have both been allowed to fly up to 400 feet.

We foresee stronger adherence to these new rules that have been made easier to comply with than Canada’s prior regulations. Plus, the new rules open up options for flying at night and in controlled airspace if a pilot follows the requirements for ‘Advanced’ operations.

How do you foresee the new regulations opening up opportunities for advancement on the Canadian drone front? Share your thoughts in this thread on our community forum.

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