Flying an unmanned aircraft

Unmanned air vehicles, model aircraft, remotely piloted aircraft systems, drones

Think safety first

More and more people are using unmanned aircraft for work or pleasure. Transport Canada regulates their use to keep the public and our airspace safe.

Aircraft without a pilot on board go by many names—unmanned air vehicle (UAV), remotely piloted aircraft system, model aircraft, remote control aircraft, and drone.

Call it what you want, but always think safety first.

Safety guidelines

You are responsible to fly your aircraft safely and legally. In Canada, you must:

  • Follow the rules set out in the Canadian Aviation Regulations.

  • Respect the Criminal Code as well as all municipal, provincial, and territorial laws related to trespassing and privacy

Transport Canada expects you to follow these basic Do’s and Don’ts.

Do

  • Only fly your aircraft during daylight and in good weather (not in clouds or fog).

  • Always keep your aircraft in sight, where you can see it with your own eyes – not only through an on-board camera, monitor or smartphone.

  • Make sure your aircraft is safe for flight before take-off. Ask yourself, for example, are the batteries fully charged? Is it too cold to fly?

  • Know if you need permission to fly and when to apply for a Special Flight Operations Certificate

  • Respect the privacy of others – avoid flying over private property or taking photos or videos without permission.

Don’t fly:

  • Closer than 9 km from any airport, heliport, or aerodrome.

  • Higher than 90 metres from above the ground.

  • Closer than 150 metres from people, animals, buildings, structures, or vehicles.

  • In populated areas or near large groups of people, including sporting events, concerts, festivals, and firework shows.

  • Near moving vehicles, avoid highways, bridges, busy streets or anywhere you could endanger or distract drivers.

  • Within restricted airspace, including near or over military bases, prisons, and forest fires.

  • Anywhere you may interfere with first responders

Use this infographic to help you understand the Dos and Don’ts of flying safely:

Permission and safety requirements

To fly your unmanned aircraft legally, you may need to follow strict safety conditions outlined in an exemption or apply for permission from Transport Canada. It depends on the type of aircraft, its weight, as well as how and where you plan to use it.

If your aircraft:

  • Weighs 35 kg or more, you need to apply for a Special Flight Operations Certificate before you can use it.

  • Weighs less than 35 kg and is used for recreational purposes, you don’t need permission to fly.

Unmanned aircraft that weigh less than 25 kg may qualify for an exemption to the rules, which will allow you to fly without permission. 

If your aircraft: 

  • Weighs 2 kg or less and you can meet the safety conditions in the Transport Canada exemption for UAVs that weigh less than 2 kg or less, you don’t need to request permission to fly.

  • Weighs between 2.1 kg and 25 kg and you can meet the safety conditions in the Transport Canada exemption for UAVs that weigh between 2.1 kg and 25 kg, you don’t need to request permission to fly. However, you must notify Transport Canada by completing the submission form.

If you cannot or choose not to meet the safety conditions in the UAV exemptions, you must apply for a Special Flight Operations Certificate. 

Use this infographic to help you understand the rules and find out if you need permission to fly.

Infographic (PDF)

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Question 1:

Do the exemptions for small UAVs apply to me?

Answer:

It depends on your type of aircraft, 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 safety conditions at all times. For more information, please read the General safety practices for model aircraft and unmanned air vehicle systems.

Question 2:

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

Answer:

Each exemption contains different training requirements. For example, to fly a UAV that weighs between 2.1 kg and 25 kg UAV without permission, the operator 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.

Question 3:

What is the purpose of a Special Flight Operations Certificate?

Answer:

The Canadian Aviation Regulations require Special Flight Operations Certificates so that Transport Canada can verify that 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.

Question 4:

How do I apply for a Special Flight Operations Certificate?

Answer:

You must email a detailed application to the nearest Transport Canada regional office. 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. 

If you have any questions about applying for a Special Flight Operations Certificate, please contact your regional Transport Canada office or services@tc.gc.ca.

Question 5:

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

Answer:

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 we must contact you for more information or have received a large number of applications.

  • You should apply at least 20 working days before you intend to use your UAV.

Question 6:

How long is a Special Flight Operations Certificate valid?

Answer:

A Special Flight Operations Certificate is valid for a limited period of time.

If 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

Question 7:

How does Transport Canada enforce the regulations?

Answer:

Transport Canada regulates the use of all aircraft, manned and unmanned, to keep the public and our airspace safe.

If the department receives a report of an incident, one of our inspectors will verify that the operator followed the rules and used the aircraft safely. Local police may also verify if other laws were broken, including the Criminal Code and privacy laws.

For example:

  • If an operator is flying for recreational purposes, it’s illegal to fly an aircraft in a way that puts aviation safety at risk. The courts would decide on the penalty.

  • 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 is flying an aircraft 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.

Question 8:

Does Transport Canada plan to review the current regulations for UAVs?

Answer:

Yes. Transport Canada introduced new exemptions for small UAVS in November 2014. The department continues to work with stakeholders and international partners to review and update safety regulations that will address developments in this growing sector and advancements in technology. Our goal is always to maintain the safety of those on the ground and in the sky.

Question 9:

What laws apply to unmanned aircraft?

Answer:

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 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 an aircraft, you can report it to Transport Canada at services@tc.gc.ca.

Question 10:

Why are there so many different terms for unmanned aircraft?

Answer:

You may know them as “drones”, but the aviation community uses many different terms. The words to describe unmanned aircraft are changing almost as quickly as the technology itself.

In Canada, our laws use two terms:

  • Model aircraft describes those usually used by hobbyists for recreational purposes.

  • Unmanned air vehicle, or UAV, generally refers to more complex operations used for commercial purposes.

Other countries use the term “remotely piloted aircraft system”, or RPAS. The International Civil Aviation Organization uses this term as a catch-all for all unmanned aircraft.

Call your aircraft what you like—but Transport Canada expects you to operate it safely and legally!

Question 11:

How many Special Flight Operations Certificates has Transport Canada issued?

Answer:

Transport Canada issues more Special Flight Operations Certificates each year, as UAVs grow in popularity. Between 2010 and 2013, we issued 1,527 approvals for UAV operations.

Submission form - exemption for UAVs 2.1 to 25 kg

To qualify under the exemption for UAVs between 2.1 and 25 kg, you must provide Transport Canada with the following information: