UAV Project: Flying With Permission

For those who know me, they will know I love to fly drones – and crash them just as often. After reading an article on CBC about how changes to Transport Canada’s regulations of drones would make recreational flying more difficult, I decided to check to see if I was flying within the rules.

As of December 21, 2016, Transport Canada revised their UAV regulations with some major changes. As a result of the new regulations hobbyists took to the news to voice their concerns and said the changes were too restrictive for recreational use. One of the major changes with the update regarded the weight of the aircraft, and the minimum distance pilots could fly from an aerodrome or populated areas. Transport Canada relaxed their minimum operating distances on July 17, 2017, which included changes were the operating distances from aerodromes and densely populated areas – from 9 km to 5.5 km, and from 5 km to 2.5 km respectively. They also specify operators cannot fly within 9 km all natural hazards or disasters – operators only needed to stay 9 km away from forest fires as stated in previous revisions.

Operators flying a recreational drone weighing at least 250 g or a maximum of 25 kg – between 0.5 lb. and 55 lbs. – no longer need to submit a Special Flight Operator’s Certificate (SFOC), however, are required to submit an exemption form to Transport Canada, which will remain valid until the regulations have been revised. For most operators, this should not be a concern as most commercially available drones weight less than 5 kg – 11 lbs.

Transport Canada provides an infographic flowchart that helps you determine whether you need a SFOC, however, there is a little bit of a grey area in explaining whether amateur photographers and videographers are exempt. After speaking with a representative from Transport Canada to determine photography falls under the commercial drone category, they informed me that unless it is being used for business purposes I did not have to apply for a special license. However, they did say I should complete the exemption form as my drone does weigh over 2.5 kg with a camera and gimbal installed. For anyone intending on using their drone for business purposes, they should apply for a SFOC since it is no longer being used for recreational flight.

For those who need to apply for a SFOC, Transport Canada provide Staff Instruction guidelines for how to review and process SFOC applications. It can take up to 21 days to receive a response from Transport Canada, so they recommend an application should be submitted in advance to ensure the certificate is approved prior to the requested date.

Personally, as a recreational pilot, I found the changes were not so restrictive that I would be forced to sell my drone, or put it on permanent display in my workshop, contrary to what some hobbiests were saying. And, since drones are becoming increasingly popular and more affordable, I believe the updated rules reflect a growing industry. Similar to the automobile and personal aircraft when their presence increased, regulations involving unmanned aircraft will be evolving as well.