Using Professional Drones in Canada: A UAV/UAS Regulation Overview

In Canada the use of drones for non-recreational purposes is permitted by Transport Canada, subject to certain approvals and permissions, and it is likely to become more flexible still in future – especially for users of ‘low-risk’ systems.

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What are the current rules?

Canada’s non-recreational UAV regulations are based on the holding of a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC).

An SFOC provides an operation with permission to fly and describes exactly when, where, and how an unmanned system will be used. There are currently a range of SFOC application processes available: a Compliant Operator Application and three Restricted Operator processes.

Holding an SFOC as a Compliant Operator brings several benefits, including Canada-wide geographical flexibility and an extended SFOC validity period of up to three years. However this type of application is the most complex and requires the most documents to be submitted, including operation manuals specific to the drone being used. One of the other key requirements for becoming a Compliant Operator is to employ a drone that Transport Canada has designated a ‘compliant small UAV’ (senseFly’s eBee is one).

While Transport Canada continues to accept Restricted Operator applications currently, it recommends that all SFOC applicants work towards becoming Compliant Operators, in order that their operations can continue smoothly into the future when further regulatory updates are completed.

In detail: read what is required from an SFOC application.

With 2 interim exemptions…

As of November 2014, an interim strategy was also put in place (read the news announcement), which is due to apply until December 2016 (see Are any changes due? below).

This change creates two exemption categories within which operators are not required to hold an SFOC. These categories related to the weight (mass) of the UAV in question.

  • Sub-2 kg category: no Special Flight Operations Certificate is required if operator meets sub-2 kg exemption requirements.
  • 1 kg – 25 kg category: no Special Flight Operations Certificate required if an operator meets the specific 2.1 kg – 25 kg exemption requirements and provides Transport Canada with aircraft and project details.
  • (Over 25 kg – no exemption possible, SFOC still required.)

Transport Canada’s exemptions infographic (click image to view full version):


Are more changes due in future?

Transport Canada is currently (Aug 2015) in the consultation stage of proposing amendments to its existing UAV safety regulations.

If put in place in 2016 as proposed, these changes would only concern UAVs weighing 25 kg or less and operated within visual line of sight. (Transport Canada intends to keep the Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) process for heavier UAVs and more complex operations.)

These changes would regulate UAV operations differently according to their risk level—meaning light drones posing minimal risk to people, property and other aircraft would be subject to lesser regulations, while heavier, more complex drone UAV operations that could potentially cause greater damage would be subject to more restriction. The 3 categories proposed include:

  • Operations with Very Small UAVs
    • Undecided whether ‘very small’ designation based on weight, kinetic energy, other…
    • within 9 km of built-up areas
    • Operator certificate
    • Basic pilot knowledge test
    • No pilot permit required
    • No aircraft marking/registration
    • No liability insurance
    • No age restrictions
  • Limited Operations with Small UAVs
    • Likely rural projects only
    • Outside 9 km of built-up areas
    • Operator certificate
    • No pilot permit required
    • Basic pilot knowledge test
    • Aircraft marked & registered
    • Aircraft airworthiness certificate
    • Liability insurance
  • Complex Operations with Small UAVs
    • within 9 km of built-up areas
    • Operator certificate
    • Pilot permit required
    • Advanced pilot knowledge test
    • Aircraft airworthiness certificate
    • Aircraft marked & registered

Read the official announcement / Read the proposed amendments in full

Keep up to date

Register for Transport Canada’s e-alerts at: http://wwwapps.tc.gc.ca/Comm/5/ListServ/Lg.aspx

Related news

To speak to a Canadian drone expert…

  • Visit this page to locate a senseFly UAV distributor in Canada.