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Canadian drone laws for 2019 deviate widely from U.S., FAA approach

New Canadian drone laws go into effect in 2019 — and they are a pretty interesting case study in how the U.S.’s Northern neighbors are taking a vastly different approach when it comes to regulating drone use.

The Canadian government this week posted a new set of rules around flying drones (specifically ones weighing between 250 grams and 25 kilograms; if your drone weighs more than 25 kilograms you will still need special permission from Transport Canada). The new Canadian drone laws cover topics from licensing and registration to airports.

And in the wake of a fiasco surrounding a shutdown at the UK’s Gatwick airport due to fears of drones flying near the airport, the new Canadian drone laws address some strict rules around drones and airports.

Canadian drone laws for flying drones near airports

One of the biggest changes is it is now illegal to fly within 5.6 kilometres (3 nautical miles) of Canadian airports and within 1.9 kilometres (1 nautical mile) of Canadian heliports. Individual violators can face fines of up to $1,000, while corporations that violate the law could be subject to fines of up to $5,000, as well as possible jail time.

In 2017, Transport Canada reported 135 cases of drones flying too close to airplanes and airports.

Canadian drone laws
Aerial view of Quebec City and Old Port in Quebec, Canada.

Canadian drone rules for getting a license to fly and registering your drone

Canada will now require drone owners to register and mark their drone, as well as obtain a pilot certificate — whether or not they plan to use them for “basic” or “advanced” purposes. Both types of drone use will require the pilot to pass a test, though the “advanced” test is a bit more detailed and also requires an in-person flight review, which assess a pilot’s ability to operate their drone safely (a process very much unlike the U.S.’s requirements, which only require a multiple choice test taken on a computer and isn’t broken down by basic vs. advanced use-cases).

Rather than the U.S.’s breakdown by hobby vs. commercial, Canada’s breakdown of drone use as basic vs. advanced are based on distance from bystanders and on airspace rules.

All drone flights will require registration. To register, pilots need to pay the $5 registration fee and register with Transport Canada. Once registered, pilots will receive a unique registration number, which they need to affix someplace on their drone (it’s a process very similar to the U.S.’s drone registration requirements). If you fly an unregistered drone, you may be fined $1,000 for an individual person and $5,000 for a corporation.

How will Canada’s drone rules be enforced?

The new rules will be enforced by not just Transport Canada (Canada’s version of the Federal Aviation Administration) but also the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). That’s an interesting deviation from the U.S., where local police have reported confusion over when and how they can report dangerous or illegal drone pilot behavior.

“Local law enforcement agencies cannot enforce FAA regulations (in the U.S.),” according to a report from the National Criminal Justice Reference Service. “The FAA is responsible for enforcing its regulations for UAS operations, however…state and local law enforcement officers are often the first to suspect unauthorized or unsafe UAS operations and conduct immediate intervention. The challenge for law enforcement agencies is how to distinguish between lawful, authorized use of UAS and the authority they have to intervene when they suspect unauthorized or dangerous UAS operation.”

The new Canadian drone rules go into effect on June 1, 2019.

And the drone industry is generally viewing the changes with a positive outlook.

“The regulatory framework published strikes a sensible balance between protecting public safety and bringing the benefits of drone technology to Canadian businesses and the public at large,” said Brendan Schulman, Vice President of Policy & Legal Affairs at DJI. “Several aspects of Canada’s new regulations are particularly innovative including an easily accessible online test, rules that will allow for night operations, and a framework that will keep drones away from major airports while not simply outlawing operations anywhere near populated areas.”


  • maccampb says:

    Thanks for this… The new regulations do allow for operations in controlled airspace(i.e. nearer airports) with an advanced pilot certification and an RPAS that meets certain requirements.

    The biggest issue with these new regulations is the RPAS standards for drones are not yet out and no manufacturers have certified any aircraft. Many Canadian operators with DJI drones, for example, don’t know if they will be able to operate after June 1st, where they are flying today.

    • Thomas says:

      This is true. I would imagine that both new and existing units (to a certain degree of complexity) will require DJI to make the compliance or safety statement. I’m on edge as a major capitol expenditure is not what I want to focus on in first and foremost.

    • Partially correct, drone manufacturers will be required to issue an assurance that their drones meet or exceed the current and developing criteria for compliant aircraft. And that extends to those currently listed as Transport Canada compliant, which is a pretty short list to be honest.

      It is my belief that firms such as DJI, who lead the industry with their innovation and safe operating protocols, will further raise the bar for all manufacturers to meet. Up until now many firms bypassed compliance and the costs associated with achieving it, especially when considering the size of the Canadian market. A relatively simple self-declaration mechanism now exists to bring together innovation and public safety regardless of Canada’s market size.

      • Sorry to disagree.

        Compliant aircraft certified prior to April 1 will keep that compliant rating for the life of that aircraft. And it’s not clear yet what they will be allowed to do under the new rules.

        Non compliant aircraft, meaning most of the Canadian Fleet, will have to be declared as meeting one of three categories, one for controlled airspace, one for near people (> 5m away) and for over people.

        For most of the operations that we can now do under Standing Complex SFOCs, the first declaration at least I’d needed for all existing aircraft.

        The details on how those declarations will be be assessed are still missing.

        As DJI is the majority of the market, their response is critical once the details come out.

  • Marcus McKay says:

    What provisions are there for custom drones like , racing drones , freestyle drones.

  • Mack says:

    Such a shame that only Canadian citizens or permanent residents can get the basic operations certificate. Anyone planning to visit Canada for a vacation have no chance of flying under basic operations.

    I’ve travelled around the world flying drones and no other country has different rules for visitors the way Canada does. Such a shame they’ve taken this approach.

    I reached out to transport Canada who told me this is because you have to register via a government based website, and when I explained that anyone in the world can access the website and sign up for a CGKey (for work or travel visas etc) he simply ignored it

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