Flying a drone or an unmanned air vehicle (UAV) for work or research

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Do I need permission to fly my drone or unmanned air vehicle?

Do I need permission to fly my drone or unmanned air vehicle?

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Unmanned air vehicle, model aircraft, remotely piloted aircraft system, drone. Call it what you want, but always think safety first.

Do you fly your drone or unmanned air vehicle for fun or recreation? 
Learn how to fly safely and legally.

Think safety first

More and more people are using unmanned air vehicles (UAVs), sometimes commonly called drones, for work and research. Transport Canada regulates their use to keep the public and our airspace safe.  

Before you fly your UAV, make sure you understand the rules that apply and follow them. Not doing so could put lives at risk and cost you up to $25,000 in fines.

What rules do I need to follow?

Use the infographic below to help you understand if you need permission to fly your UAV or if you qualify for one of the UAV exemptions.


Flying an unmanned aircraft? You may need permission from Transport Canada (PDF)

Get permission to fly your UAV

To use your UAV for any form of work or research, you are legally required to apply for a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC). This applies to all UAVs used for anything but the fun of flying and regardless of how much they weigh. Transport Canada inspectors will review your SFOC application and determine what safety conditions are needed to reduce the risks.

You must send a detailed application to the Transport Canada Civil Aviation office in the region where you intend to fly your UAV. Your application must include your contact information and describe how, when and where you plan to use your UAV, as well as how you plan to deal with the safety risks.

You can find detailed information on what you need to include in your application in the SFOC staff instruction.

Qualify for an exemption

Most UAV operators must get Transport Canada’s permission to use a UAV for any type of work or research. However, under very specific, lower-risk circumstances, you may qualify for an exemption.

You must follow strict safety conditions outlined in one of the two exemptions for:

If you cannot meet the conditions in the UAV exemptions or if your UAV weighs more than 25 kg, you must apply for an SFOC. In addition, if you wish to fly your UAV in anything other than Class G airspace or closer than 9 km to the centre of any aerodrome or a built up area, you must apply for an SFOC.

Notification form - exemption for UAVs from 2 kg up to and including 25 kg

To qualify to operate under the exemption for UAVs from 2 kg up to an including 25 kg, you must comply with all the safety conditions contained in the exemption and provide Transport Canada with the following information:

Frequently Asked Questions

Is my UAV being used for “work or research”?

If you are flying your UAV for anything other than for the fun of flying, it’s considered for work or research. Examples of non-recreational work include survey work, agricultural work, inspections, academic research, police work, and aerial photography and videography, including for real estate.

What is the purpose of a Special Flight Operations Certificate?

The Canadian Aviation Regulations require Special Flight Operations Certificates so that Transport Canada can verify operators can use their UAV reliably and safely.

The Special Flight Operations Certificate contains conditions specific to the proposed use, such as maximum altitudes, minimum distances from people and property, operating areas, and coordination requirements with air traffic services.

For more information, visit Section 602.41 (Unmanned air vehicles) and Section 602.45 (Model aircraft) of the Canadian Aviation Regulations.

How do I apply for a Special Flight Operations Certificate?

You can find detailed information on what you need to include in your application in the SFOC staff instruction.  

If you have any questions about the application process, please contact your regional Transport Canada Civil Aviation office or services@tc.gc.ca.

How long does it take to get a Special Flight Operations Certificate?

Transport Canada processes applications on a first-come-first-served basis and aims to process them within 20 working days. This means:

  • It may take longer if your application is missing information or if we have received a large number of applications.
  • You should apply as early as possible before you plan to use your UAV.
How long is a Special Flight Operations Certificate valid?

Initially, a Special Flight Operations Certificate is valid for a limited period of time. Once you have a proven track record of operating your UAV safely, Transport Canada may:

  • Approve longer-term validity periods
  • Approve larger geographic areas
  • Grant new applications more quickly
Do the exemptions for small UAVs apply to me?

It depends on the type of UAV, its weight, as well as how and where you plan to use it. Our infographic will help you understand if the exemptions apply to you or if you need permission to fly.

If you qualify for an exemption, you must meet the all the safety conditions. For more information, please read the General safety practices for model aircraft and unmanned air vehicle systems.

Do I need to notify Transport Canada if I fly my UAV under an exemption?

You only need to notify Transport Canada if you qualify under the exemption for UAVs from 2 kg up to and including 25 kg. To let us know, complete the notification form.

What training is required to fly a UAV under the exemptions?

Each exemption contains specific training requirements. For example, to fly a UAV that weighs between 2 kg and 25 kg without permission, the UAV pilot must be trained to understand:

  • airspace classification and structure
  • weather and notice to airmen (NOTAM) reporting services
  • aeronautical charts and the Canada Flight Supplement
  • relevant sections of the Canadian Aviation Regulations.

For more information on training requirements, read the knowledge requirements for UAV pilots.

How does Transport Canada enforce the regulations?

If an incident is reported to the department, one of our inspectors will verify that the operator followed the rules and whether the UAV safely guidelines were followed. Local police may also be involved if other laws were broken, including the Criminal Code and privacy laws.

For example:

  • If an operator doesn’t meet a condition in one of the exemptions, they will no longer qualify to fly without permission and must apply for a Special Flight Operations Certificate.
  • If an operator flies a UAV without a Special Flight Operations Certificate and should have one, Transport Canada can issue fines up to $5,000 for an individual and up to $25,000 for a corporation.
  • If an operator does not follow the requirements of their Special Flight Operations Certificate, Transport Canada can issue fines of up to $3,000 for an individual and up to $15,000 for a corporation.
Does Transport Canada plan to review the current regulations for UAVs?

Yes. Transport Canada is exploring changes to the regulations that will address the safety requirements, growing popularity and economic importance of UAVs and integrate them safely into Canadian airspace. The department published a Noticeof Proposed Amendment that highlights a framework of proposed changes, including new flight rules, aircraft marking and registration requirements, knowledge testing, minimum age limits, and pilot permits for certain UAV operations.

The Canadian public will have the opportunity to provide comments when the proposed amendments are published in Canada Gazette.

What laws apply to UAVs?

In aviation, you must always think safety first. In addition to respecting the Canadian Aviation Regulations, you must follow the rules in all acts and regulations—including the Criminal Code as well as all federal, municipal, provincial, and territorial laws regarding issues such as trespassing and privacy.

If you think someone has committed a criminal offense, please contact your local police department.

If you are concerned about the safe operation of a UAV, report it to Transport Canada at services@tc.gc.ca.

Why are there so many different terms for UAVs?

You may know them as “drones”, but the aviation community and Transport Canada use different terms.

In Canada, our laws use two terms:

  • “Model aircraft,” which describes the devices usually used by hobbyists for recreational purposes.
  • “Unmanned Air Vehicle,” or UAV, which refers to unmanned aircraft more used for any non-recreational purposes (i.e. commercial, research and development, academia, first responders, etc).

Internationally the terms “unmanned aircraft system” (UAS) and “remotely piloted aircraft system” (RPAS) are used. The International Civil Aviation Organization uses “UAS” as a catch-all for all unmanned aircraft. Call it what you like—but Transport Canada expects you to operate it safely and legally. Call your UAV what you like—but Transport Canada expects you to operate it safely and legally!

How many Special Flight Operations Certificates has Transport Canada issued?

Transport Canada issues more Special Flight Operations Certificates each year as UAVs grow in popularity. Between 2010 and 2014, we issued 3,199 approvals for UAV operations.

Can I fly my UAV in a national park?

The use of UAVs is limited and carefully controlled in national parks. The Field Unit Superintendent may authorize the use of UAVs for park management purposes. Please contact Parks Canada for more information.

Can I fly my UAV outside of Canada?

Rules for UAVs vary from one country to another. Always check the local aviation regulations before flying your UAV in another country.