Recreational and non-recreational drone operations - Frequently Asked Questions

Note: Currently there are three regulatory regimes in place for users of Unmanned Air Vehicles or drones:

  1. Non-recreational users (e.g. commercial users) are required to obtain a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) to operate under one of two exemptions: (http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/civilaviation/opssvs/getting-permission-fly-drone.html)
  2. Recreational users (i.e. modelers) are required to operate according to the terms of the Interim Order (IO): http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/mediaroom/interim-order-respecting-use-model-aircraft.html
  3. Recreational users who are members of the Model Aeronautics Association of Canada (MAAC) are exempted from the conditions of the Interim Order as long as they comply with MAAC operating rules and fly at MAAC sanctioned sites / events.

Recreational use

1. Do the new regulations apply to recreational or commercial operators?

The new rules apply only to the recreational use of model aircraft (recreational drones). However, model aircraft operated at events organized by MAAC or at airfields located in a zone administered by MAAC or a MAAC club are exempted from the Interim Order. Rules surrounding the commercial use of unmanned air vehicles (UAV) remain unchanged. The new rules for recreational drone use are now in effect and are available on the Flying your drone safely and legally webpage.

2. What is an Interim Order? Are these regulations permanent or law?

An Interim Order is a temporary regulation put in place to deal with a pressing safety issue pending the development of permanent regulations. In this instance, Transport Canada published proposed drone regulations in Canada Gazette, Part 1 in July 2017 for consultation with all Canadians. Following consultation, a final package of regulations will be published in Canada Gazette, Part 2.

3. Why did you revise the Interim Order?

Based on feedback from Canadians, additional research, and a comprehensive risk assessment, Transport Canada has amended some of the conditions within the Interim Order.

4. What are the main changes between the Interim Order that was announced in March 2017 and the revised Interim Order published in June 2017?

Under the revised safety measures, some restrictions have been relaxed or removed. The restrictions on operations close to animals, buildings and structures have been removed. Additionally, operators:

  • Can now fly 5.5 km from aerodromes and 1.8 km from heliports or aerodromes used exclusively by helicopters (instead of 9 km from all aerodromes);
  • Can now fly 30 m (100 feet) from people, vehicles, and vessels (instead of 75 m) if their drone weighs more than 250 g up to 1 kg;
  • Must keep their drone 75 m (250 feet) away from people, vehicles, and vessels (same distance as before) if their drone weighs more than 1 kg to 35 kg;
  • Must keep their drone 9 km away from all natural hazards or disasters (instead of 9 km from forest fires only).

5. Why did Transport Canada remove the minimum distances from animals, structures, and buildings in its revised Interim Order?

Transport Canada consulted with other government departments and determined that existing regulations, such as the Criminal Code, were adequate to protect animals, structures and buildings and there was no need to duplicate legislation.

6. How were the revised distance restrictions determined?

Based on additional analysis and a comprehensive risk assessment, Transport Canada determined that reducing the distances to airports and aerodromes could be done without affecting the safety of other airspace users.

7. What do the regulations mean by "night"?

For the purposes of the Interim Order, night refers to any time between sunset and sunrise. This requirement is in place in order to better ensure that the drone operator can maintain visual contact with any obstacles that may be in the operating area and with their drone. It also helps to ensure that others in the area, including manned aircraft, can clearly see the drone.

8. How are privacy rights effected?

The purpose of the Interim Order and other Transport Canada regulations is to ensure aviation safety, which includes protecting aircraft in the air along with people and property on the ground. Drone operators must comply with all applicable laws and regulations, including privacy and trespassing.

While not its primary purpose, the 250 ft. stand-off distance restriction has the practical effect of helping to protect the privacy of Canadians. The stand-off distance ensures that camera equipped drones are kept at a reasonable distance from homes, apartments, condominiums etc., where we have received reports of drones being used to violate the privacy of others. We are seeking a reasonable approach to the use of drones, which seeks to balance the enjoyable use of drones with the rights of others to enjoy public and private spaces.

Non-recreational or commercial use

9. What is a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) and do I need one?

Special Flight Operations Certificates (SFOCs) are the primary means to work legally with your unmanned air vehicle (UAV) and are administered by your Civil Aviation Regional Office.

If you are planning on using your UAV for non-recreational use, you need to either apply for an SFOC OR operate under an exemption. In addition, you will require an SFOC in order to operate UAVs weighing more than 35kg, whether for recreational or non-recreational purposes.

10. What are the exemption requirements and how do I operate under one?

Exemptions are meant for lower risk activities and are divided into two weight categories, which correspond to their level of risk. In order to operate a UAV under an exemption (without an SFOC), you must meet the list of requirements found on the Getting permission to fly your drone webpage.

Operators wishing to fly their UAV for work or research under these exemptions should consult Transport Canada's Drone Safety website to be sure that they meet the requirements listed in the appropriate weight category. If one of the requirements is not met, you will need an SFOC for your non-recreational UAV activity.

If all of the listed requirements are met, you may submit an Exemption Notification Form.

11. What is considered a "built-up area"? Am I allowed to operate my UAV on my own property?

"Built-up areas" are considered areas with groups of buildings or dwellings, including anything from small hamlets to major cities. Anything larger than a farmstead should be considered a built-up area. Note that two or three buildings alone would not constitute a built-up area but the stand-off distances of 100 ft (for 1 kg or less) and 500 ft (for greater than 1 kg) would have to be respected to stay away from buildings, structures, vehicles, etc.

This distance was based on the risk of "flying away" due to command link problems and inadvertently straying into adjacent built-up areas. To fly closer to a built-up area, the operator must apply in advance for a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC).

12. I am not a Canadian citizen. How can I legally operate a UAV, for commercial purposes, in Canada?

As you would be classified as a 'foreign UAV operator,' you will need to apply for a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC). SFOCs are the primary means to work legally with your UAV in Canada and are administered by Transport Canada's Civil Aviation Regional Offices.

For more information on submitting an SFOC application, please contact the regional office that best corresponds with the region of Canada you intend on operating in.

For more information on Canada's UAV safety guidelines, please visit our Drone Safety website.

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