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 UAV regulations apply to recreational or commercial UAV 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 plans to publish proposed UAV regulations in Canada Gazette, Part 1 later this spring for consultation with all Canadians. Following consultation, a final package of regulations will be published in Canada Gazette, Part 2 in 2017.

3. How am I supposed to avoid operating my recreational drone near animals/wildlife?

The intent of the new rules is to avoid risks to animals that can be reasonably detected and avoided. This can be someone's pet, a herd of wild animals, livestock or any animals that might be specifically protected under other laws. However, small wild animals such as squirrels, mice and skunks would be beyond reasonable because they are small and difficult to see. Recreational operators are asked to fly their UAVs at least 75 m from animals or wildlife.

4. 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.

5. How are the distance restrictions determined? Why 9 km/90 m?

There are a variety of sources for these distance restrictions. For example, the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs) establish safety zones around airports based on distance from the airports (five nautical miles or about nine km). Similarly, there is an existing requirement to mark obstacles greater than 300 ft/90 m. Drones cannot be marked on maps and therefore present a hazard to manned aviation in airspace above 300 ft/90 m, where there is an expectation that obstacles will be clearly marked.

The "stand-off" distances of 250 ft/75 m are based on risk assessments, focused on protecting property and people on the ground, which Transport Canada conducted with input from interested stakeholders. We are seeking a reasonable approach to the use of drones, which seeks to balance the enjoyable use of drones with the safety to airspace and those on the ground.

6. How are my 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

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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).

10. Where I should take UAV pilot training?

Transport Canada does not yet approve nor promote UAV training organizations, or recognize certificates for UAV operations.

It is the operator's decision to either study these knowledge requirements individually or to enroll in a UAV training course. All UAV pilots are responsible to ensure they have the right level of knowledge, experience and skills required to safely operate.

You may access UAV pilot training from sources including:

  • UAV operators and manufacturers;
  • manned aviation flight training organizations;
  • third parties

You may find the complete list on this webpage: Knowledge Requirements for Pilots of Unmanned Air Vehicle Systems (UAV).

11. 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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