Canada Drone Laws 2020: Fly the (Un)friendly Skies

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canada drone lawsIt’s easy to forget that the United State’s Northern neighbour Canada is actually much larger in terms of land mass.

This large nation endowed with an astounding diversity of wilderness only has a tenth of the human population found in the USA, but is known as a safe and friendly place to live.

When it comes to flying your drone through those great Canadian spaces, things are less on the friendly side however. While the US drone world is governed by some fairly open federal regulations and state laws that seldom venture into the draconian, Canada has a harsher outlook on UAS operation.

In this article I’m going to touch on  the most important things you have to know if you plan on operating a drone in Canadian airspace.

DISCLAIMER: I’m not a lawyer and definitely not some sort of expert on Canadian law. We provide this article not as a legal resource, but as an awareness raising exercise. It is your responsibility to know and comply with the letter of the law. If you’re unsure about the legality of your drone activity, get in touch with local Canadian government representatives.

Canadian Drone Laws in a Nutshell

Unlike the USA, Canada regulates recreational drones under the same interim order that governs model aircraft. An interim order is a temporary court order that will either be scrapped at some point or replaced by permanent laws. For now however, it’s the interim order respecting the use of model aircraft that you should be aware of.

There are separate rules that apply depending on whether you want to use your drone for recreation or business. Drones that weight less than 250g are not the target of the rules in the order, but you should still fly them responsibly!

Drones that are subject to the order weigh between 250g and 35 kg. Violating the rules can carry fines as high as 3000 CAD! There are quite a lot of rules and it can be hard to obey them at all times, but here they are so you can’t say you didn’t know! You don’t have to apply for permission to fly such drones however. You can buy and fly them as long as you comply with the rules set out by the transport authority.

Rules for Drone Flight

You aren’t allowed to fly more than 90m above the ground. You also can’t fly within 30m of vehicles, vessels or people. The 30m rule only applies to drones between 250g and 1kg. If your drone is over 1kg then the distance is extended to 75m.

You may not operate your drone closer than 5.5km from any place aircraft takeoff and land, unless it’s for helicopters only. In which case the distance is reduced to 1.8km.

If there is any sort of hazard or disaster area then you are not allowed to operate the drone within 9km of the site. You also can’t operate it in such a way that it interferes with the police or emergency responders.

You can only fly in daytime and can’t fly in the clouds. Your drone must always be in sight, within 500m of yourself and must be marked with your identity and contact details.

The only times you are not subject to these rules is if you’re at an event or an official field of the Model Aeronautics association of Canada.

When to Apply For Permission

If your drone weighs more than 35kg you need government permission to fly it. Additionally, regardless of weight any non-recreational use of a drone also needs permission. If either or both of these are true of you then you need to apply for a SFOC or Special Flight Operations Certificate. Flying a drone that needs an SFOC without one is a bad idea. Individuals face as much as $5000 in fines while companies could pay up to $25000! If you have an SFOC but break the rules stipulated by it the fines are as much as $3000 or $15000 for individuals and companies respectively. Harsh!

Non-drone laws of Note

While Canada still mulls over drone-specific laws there are plenty of existing laws that are relevant to things such as privacy, harassment and trespassing. There’s also plenty of criminal law on the books that cover issues such as endangering aircraft, violating protected airspace or causing injury or damage. So don’t think because there aren’t yet drone-specific laws in these areas that you can do what you want.

Speaking of which, there are a whole host of upcoming drone laws in Canada which will likely further restrict drone use and replace the interim order rules. Let’s see what’s on the horizon.

Future Canadian Drone Laws

Canada’s transport authority has proposed some pretty detailed drone regulations. Assuming that they pass as proposed there will be a few changes. First of all, the weight categories are going to change. The recreational drone category will be from 250g to 25kg.

Regulations will be by category, depending on the size of the drone and where it will be used.

Very Small Drone Operations will cover drones between 250g and 1kg. This is the main recreational category and has the simplest rules. This will be most like the US FAA registration category. The drone has to be marked with certain information, there’s a knowledge test, insurance is mandatory and existing flight restrictions still apply.

Then there’s a category for Limited Rural Operations which applies to agriculture, wildlife surveys and so on. The requirements for this category is only a little more restrictive than the basic category.

Complex Urban Operations  require a pilot permit for small drones. You must have liability insurance too. Registration and demarcation is mandatory. The drone itself must meet approved design standards and you need to get in touch with air traffic control if you want to fly in controlled spaces.

As you can see, Canada is taking the whole drone thing very seriously. Before you even think of touching those controls you’ll have to study and pass tests while also registering the craft under a future regime. Break any of these rules and you’ll feel it in your wallet too! Canada may be filled with friendly people, but it sure isn’t all that friendly to drones!

22 thoughts on “Canada Drone Laws 2020: Fly the (Un)friendly Skies”

  1. Possible laser measuring, possible reception boost (added height) ..I don’t see drones doing anything but videos. If amazon ever used drones like they said they want, there packages would just be intercepted and kept. I’m no expert but isn’t 10mph winds too much for a drone to handle ? The liability of getting hurt by a drone would be staggering. Now if your talking Robots.I’m all in

  2. “Drone courses are expected to see a big increase in students as the new regulations come into effect”

    Ha… No they won’t.

    250g restricts flying in cites to cheap plastic toys. Not something capable of stable flight, photograph or cinematography. Most cites and towns have aerodromes, heliports, airports, etc making almost the entire area an exclusion zone for anything worth flying.

    Try explaining these laws to my kid who even at 11 can’t understand why, just because his toy is too heavy, he can’t even fly it around in the back yard below tree top height.

    Oh Canada…

  3. Hi,I live in Hawaii, i fly drones for recreational use. I got an FAA registration. I’m planning to visit Canada next month, Is it fine to bring my drone with me.? I am aware of some of the no fly zones. But is there a possibility that I run a problem at the airport in Canada upon arrival? Any advice would help, thanks.

  4. I’m not putting my address on my drone. I’m not spending a small fortune on insurance I don’t need. I’ll fly my drone when and where I want, within common sense. I’ll let my children fly my drone before they are 14. I’ll also continue to operate my unmarked rc aircraft, and do it outside of sanctioned club events (boy, those snobby rc clubs sure got I good with these new laws trying to force people to pay their fees for no good reason).

    Maybe when transport Canada makes some laws that make sense, I’ll follow them. Until then, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing and challenge any potential ticket I receive in court just to waste court time and increase transport canada’s Expenses.

  5. “Drones that weight less than 250g are not the target of the rules in the order, but you should still fly them responsibly!”

    Does this apply to flying commercially as well?

  6. So after me it’s supposed to be 2 rules: 1 don’t fly 9 km around airport and 2 don’t fly over peoples ……….the rest it’s bla bla Please demonstrate me how the other rules are ok ……

  7. After few days studying regulation about flying a drone, read the 48 pages « Knowledge Requirements for Pilots of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems 250 g up to and including 25 kg », and sat down on my computer with an IPad beside me to make some research in case I didn’t know the answer to a question…
    I failed , 48%! Some of the questions, I just couldn’t find the answer.
    There are some questions which even à Commercial pilot cannot answer! It’s easier to have a $1 million boat captain license than having a $500 toys license!
    This is ridiculous.

    • I’m an IT specialist.
      I tried creating an account to take the test. Glancing over the new rules and how i have to maintain my knowledge by doing safety seminars is so off-putting. At this point, i think it would just be easier and cheaper to get rid of all my drones rather than stick to the hobby. Absolutely ridiculous that i have to pay to take a test. Pay to register individual drones (many of which are toy grade) weigh them and mark them.

      I’m all for being safe and such but the laws that come in effect on june 1st are ludicrous.

    • > There are some questions which even à Commercial pilot cannot answer!

      You’re obviously not a commercial Pilot. Without studying and on a whim (it’s only $10), I passed the test with 100%.

  8. I am an American citizen, and plan to visit Canada this summer, hoping to take my mavic pro for some recreational flying. I am aware of, and will respect no fly zones, parks, altitude limits, and all other Canadian Laws. However, I am not able to determine from the Transport Canada website, whether or not I will require an SFOC CERTIFICATE. This happens to be a 2 page application form requiring all sorts of information, some of which I don’t even understand.
    Can someone please clarify this, or point to a resource where I can find the necessary information ?

    • How did your trip go? You probably found out that you need a certificate. If you don’t understand the info, that is by design to deter people from using drones.

  9. “It’s easy to forget that the United State’s Northern neighbour Canada is actually much larger in terms of land mass.”

    Canada land mass = 9976140 sq. km
    USA land mass = 9629091 sq. km

    Not exactly “much larger” is it?
    Especially given that there is literally no place in the USA that is uninhabitable.

    • Yes, 347049 square kms is a lot bigger. New York state could fit into that area almost two and a half times. “Especially given that literally no place in the USA is uninhabitable”? What expanses of desert or remote areas of Alaska are you saying are more habitable than the equivalent Canadian ones? By the same measure one could inhabit any part of Canada as well. Why bring up habitability anyway? The article points out land mass as it relates to drone flight (not habitability), and often some of the most picturesque places to fly are remote and secluded. This just implies Canada has more ideal land over which to fly without people in the way.

  10. It says this article was updated October 13, 2019. In Canada we’ve been required to take an exam, register our drones and carry our certification for all drones over 250 grams since June 1st, 2019. The info is not current. No liability insurance is required for drones between 250 grams and 25kgs t0 my knowledge. The mentioned future laws are not planned, but either exist already (or will not exist).

  11. Hello,

    I have a Mavic Mini drone that weighs less than 250 grams. I plan to visit on vacation Alberta, Canada, at the end of December and beginning of January. I feel that I would waste the trip if I don’t get some shots of the beautiful open landscapes and snowy Canadian.

    Yet, I find it very difficult to know where and where it is not possible to fly my little drone in Canada, I would like your help on whether I am correct about the following areas to fly a drone:

    – National Park: Not Allowed!, clearly stated.
    – Provincial Park: Not Allowed!, although the regulation of Alberta´s provincial parks does not specifically mention something that has to do with drones.
    – Provincial Recreaton Area: Not Allowed???
    – Country Public Land Zone: Allowed???
    – Off-Highway Vehicle Public Land Zone: Allowed???
    – Calgary City Park: In areas designated by the Director, but, anyway, almost all of Calgary’s parks are within the restricted area of the airport or heliports.

    Thank you in advance.


  12. It appears this article was written a few years ago, yet I see it was “updated” in Jan 2020. In June 2019, Canadian drone laws changed…this article should be discontinued and re-written to reflect the new Canadian Drone Laws. Max height is 122 meters, not 90 meters. Also, for Non-Canadian drone fliers, its basically impossible to fly in the Country unless , example, the American applies to Transport Canada…I believe the person will need to pass a drone test…the basic drone license test is poorly planned and even experienced aviation pilots have failed the test…it’s like completing a test to fly for NASA…”Many” of the questions have little to Nothing to do with drone flying/operations.
    For those of you with the newer Mavic Mini…its 249 grams and does not fall under Basic or Advanced licensing requirements! Just don’t fly “stupid”.. Dont fly in a manner that will endanger other aircraft and people. That’s the only rule, out of a few dozen, Mavic Mini fliers have to follow.

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