General framework

Basic rules and regulators

What basic rules govern the operation of remotely piloted aircraft and unmanned aircraft (drones) in your jurisdiction? Which regulatory bodies are charged with enforcing these rules?

On 1 June 2019, new Canadian regulations governing the operation of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) came into effect (Part IX of the Canadian Aviation Regulations). The regulations govern operations performed by small RPAS with a maximum take-off weight between 250g and 25kg.

The regulations do not govern the operation of an RPAS with a maximum take-off weight of less than 250g.

Members of the Model Aeronautics Association of Canada (MAAC) are exempt from the regulations when operating RPAS (weighing between 250g and 35kg) within Canadian airspace while abiding by all applicable MAAC safety guidelines.

The regulations are enforced by the Minister of Transport (Transport Canada) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

What are the penalties for non-compliance with the laws and regulations governing drones?

Most of the regulatory provisions are enforced through the assessment of administrative monetary penalties, which carry a maximum fine of C$5,000 for individuals and C$25,000 for corporations, and include the potential suspension or cancellation of a person’s pilot certificate. More serious contraventions may be pursued as indictable offences or punishable on summary conviction, where permitted.

Classification

Is there any distinction between public and private drones, as well as between leisure use and commercial use?

There is no distinction between public and private RPAS, nor is there any distinction between leisure use and commercial use. However, pilots are prohibited from operating RPAS over or within a security perimeter established by a public authority in response to an emergency. Operations of RPAS conducted in the service of a public authority within the security perimeter are permitted.

Is there a weight-based classification system for drones resulting in the application of different rules?

For RPAS with a maximum take-off weight between 250 grams and 25kg, the regulations allow ‘basic operations’ and ‘advanced operations’ by qualified operators (see below for further details). For operation of an RPAS with a maximum take-off weight in excess of 25kg, the regulations require that operators obtain a special flight operations certificate (SFOC), issued upon application to, and approval of, Transport Canada.

The regulations do not govern the operation of an RPAS with a maximum take-off weight of less than 250g.

Members of the MAAC are exempt from the regulations when operating RPAS (weighing between 250g and 35kg) within Canadian airspace while abiding by all applicable MAAC safety guidelines.

Is there any distinction between completely autonomous drones and remotely piloted drones?

Operation of an autonomous RPAS is permitted if the operator is able take immediate control of the aircraft at any time.

Design and manufacture

Registration

Do specific rules regulate the design and manufacture of drones in your jurisdiction?

There are specific rules for the design and manufacture of RPAS that are to be used for certain operations. If an RPAS is to be used in controlled airspace or at a distance of less than 30 metres from another person except for a crew member or other person involved in the operation, the manufacturer of the RPAS must provide the Minister of Transport with a declaration that it meets various safety requirements. An operator can check Transport Canada’s website to determine if a particular RPAS manufacturer has provided the necessary declaration for the operator’s intended operation.

Manufacturing authorisation

Must drone manufacturers obtain any licences or other authorisation to carry out their business? Are manufacturers subject to any other specific rules?

There are no specific rules that require an RPAS manufacturer to obtain licences or authorisation to carry out a business.

Product liability

Do general product liability rules (or other specific liability rules) apply to the manufacture of drones?

Yes, the general common law on product liability applies to the manufacture of RPAS. Certain provinces also have statutory causes of action that may govern the liability of manufacturers, distributors and suppliers. These frameworks may also apply depending on where a particular RPAS was manufactured or sold.

Registration and identification

Registration

Must drones be registered in a specific national registry? If so, who is entitled to register drones and what requirements and restrictions apply? Is the registry organised as an operator registry or an owner registry?

RPAS with a maximum take-off weight between 250g and 25kg must be registered with Transport Canada’s registry of remotely piloted aircraft. The registry is organised as an owner registry. A person is qualified to be the registered owner of a remotely piloted aircraft if they are:

  • a citizen or permanent resident of Canada who is at least 14 years old;
  • a corporation incorporated under the territorial, provincial or federal laws of Canada; or
  • a municipal, provincial or federal entity.
Identification

Are drones identified through a marking system similar to that used for manned aircraft?

Yes. Registered RPAS are assigned a registration number. The registration number must be clearly visible on the RPAS. Transport Canada suggests marking an RPAS with a permanent marker, a permanent label or engraving.

Certification and licensing

Basic requirements and procedures

What certificates or licences are required to operate drones and what procedures apply?

In general, basic operations consist of operations conducted in uncontrolled airspace and more than 30 metres horizontally (never above) from bystanders. In general, advanced operations consist of operations conducted in controlled airspace or within 30 metres of bystanders (measured horizontally). Operations within controlled airspace require advance permission from the air traffic control services provider (Nav Canada), in the form of a written RPAS flight authorisation.

Basic operations may be performed by individuals who are at least 14 years old and have successfully completed an online knowledge exam to obtain a pilot certificate.

Advanced operations may be performed by individuals who are at least 16 years old, have successfully completed an online knowledge exam to obtain a pilot certificate, and have completed a flight review with a Transport Canada approved training provider.

Other types of operations (such as beyond visual line of sight or RPAS weighing over 25kg) cannot be undertaken unless the operator has applied for and has been granted an SFOC by Transport Canada.

Taxes and fees

Are certification and licensing procedures subject to any taxes or fees?

The fee for the online knowledge exam (see above) is C$10. The fee for a flight review is set by the training provider. There is no fee for the submission of an application for an SFOC.

Eligibility

Who may apply for certifications and licences? Do any restrictions apply?

A person who is at least 14 years old may apply for a pilot certificate to conduct basic operations using an RPAS with a maximum take-off weight between 250g and 25kg.

A person who is at least 16 years old may apply for a pilot certificate to conduct advanced operations using an RPAS with a maximum take-off weight between 250g and 25kg.

Remote pilot licences

Must remote pilots obtain any certifications or licences to operate drones? If so, do the relevant procedures differ based on the type of drone or operation?

See above.

Foreign operators

Are foreign operators authorised to fly drones in your jurisdiction? If so, what requirements and restrictions apply?

A foreign operator must apply for an SFOC to fly an RPAS for any purpose (recreational, work or research). The foreign operator must already be permitted to use the RPAS for the same purpose in the foreign operator’s home country. The home country’s approval or authorisation must be included with the application for an SFOC.

Certificate of airworthiness

Is a certificate of airworthiness required to operate drones? If so, what procedures apply?

A certificate of airworthiness is not required to operate an RPAS. However, the regulations state that no pilot shall conduct the take-off or launch of a remotely piloted aircraft, or permit the take-off or launch of a remotely piloted aircraft to be conducted, unless the pilot ensures that:

  • the aircraft is serviceable;
  • the RPAS has been maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions;
  • all mandatory actions have been completed in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions; and
  • all equipment required by regulation or the manufacturer’s instructions are installed and serviceable.

In addition, no pilot may conduct certain advanced operations, unless the manufacturer of the RPAS being used has provided a declaration to the Minister of Transport, which includes confirmation that the manufacturer meets the documentation requirements set out in the regulations and the technical requirements set out in Transport Canada Standard 922 - RPAS Safety Assurance.

Operations and maintenance

One drone, one pilot

Does the ‘one drone, one pilot’ rule apply in your jurisdiction?

The Canadian Aviation Regulations permit a pilot to operate up to five RPAS at a time where the system is designed to allow for the flight of multiple RPAS from a single control station (and provided that the aircraft are operated in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions). For operations involving more than five RPAS, an SFOC is required.

Maintenance

Do specific rules regulate the maintenance of drones?

All owners are required to keep records regarding any maintenance, repair or modification performed on their RPAS.

As described in question 16, a pilot is prohibited from conducting a take-off unless the pilot ensures that the aircraft is serviceable, the RPAS has been maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, all mandatory actions required by the manufacturer’s instructions have been taken, and all equipment required by the Canadian Aviation Regulations is installed and serviceable. A person who applies to operate an RPAS under an SFOC must include maintenance instructions and a description of how maintenance will be performed with the application.

Basic operational rules and restrictions

What rules and restrictions apply to flights performed in ‘visual line of sight’ (VLOS) and ‘beyond visual line of sight’ (BVLOS)? Is there a distinction in this regard?

The current framework of the Canadian Aviation Regulations provides only for VLOS operations. All BVLOS operations require special permission with an SFOC.

What rules and restrictions apply to critical and non-critical operations? Is there a distinction in this regard?

No pilot is permitted to operate an RPAS at night unless the RPAS is equipped with position lights sufficient to allow the aircraft to be visible to the pilot and any visual observer. Although night vision goggles are permitted, the position lights must be visible without the use of any such goggles and the goggles must be capable of detecting all light within the visual spectrum.

Transport operations

Is air transport via drone (eg, cargo and mail) regulated in your jurisdiction? If so, what requirements, limitations and restrictions apply?

Air transport via RPAS is not currently regulated in Canada. Except where permitted in accordance with an SFOC, pilots are prohibited from operating an RPAS if the aircraft payload includes explosive, corrosive, flammable or bio-hazardous material, weapons, ammunition or other equipment designed for use in war, or if the payload could create a hazard to aviation safety, cause injury to persons, or is attached to the aircraft by means of a line (unless such an operation is conducted in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions).

Do any specific provisions governing consumer protection and tracking systems apply with respect to cargo and delivery operations via drone?

There are no specific regulations governing consumer protection and tracking systems with respect to cargo and delivery operations.

Insurance requirements

What insurance requirements apply to the operation of drones?

The Canadian Aviation Regulations do not include any specific insurance requirements for basic or advanced operations of an RPAS. Transport Canada recommends that pilots purchase public liability insurance (as do we), but no such insurance is required by regulation. Transport Canada also notes that most home insurance policies will not cover the use of RPAS.

Safety requirements

What safety requirements apply to the operation of drones?

The pilot is ultimately responsible for ensuring the safety of all persons on the ground and those involved with a particular operation. For example, the Canadian Aviation Regulations set out a minimum horizontal distance that an RPAS may operate from any other person not involved in the operation.

Airspace

Air traffic control

How is air traffic control regulated in your jurisdiction? Which authority provides air traffic control services for drones?

NAV Canada operates Canada’s civil air navigation system. Air traffic control services are not specifically provided for RPAS, but if a pilot with an advanced operations licence intends to operate within controlled airspace, he or she must submit an online RPAS Flight Authorization Request to NAV Canada, which specifies, among other things, the proposed time and location of the operation, emergency contact information, and particulars of the means by which communication will be maintained with the appropriate air traffic services unit (ie, a cell phone or radio).

Restrictions

Are there any airspace restrictions on the operation of drones?

Special permission is required to operate in any restricted or controlled airspace (including within close proximity to airports).

Take-off and landing

Must take-off and landing of drones take place in specific areas or facilities?

There are no specific areas or facilities where take-off and landing must take place. However, the Canadian Aviation Regulations provide that prior to conducting a take-off or landing, the pilot must ensure that there is no likelihood of collision with any person, obstacle or aircraft, and that the site is suitable for the intended operation.

Liability and accidents

Cargo liability

Are there any specific rules governing the liability of drones for losses or damage to cargo?

No. However, if an RPAS is carrying a payload, the pilot must immediately cease operations if the payload incurs unanticipated damage.

Third-party liability

Are there any specific rules governing the liability of drones for damage to third parties on the surface or in the air?

There are no specific rules governing liability, but the Canadian Aviation Regulations prohibit the operation of an RPAS in a reckless or negligent manner that endangers or is likely to endanger aviation safety or the safety of any person. RPAS pilots must immediately cease operations if aviation safety or the safety of any person is endangered or likely to be endangered. The regulations require pilots to always give way to power-driven heavier-than-air aircraft, airships, gliders and balloons, and prohibits them from operating an RPAS in such proximity to another aircraft as to create a risk of collision.

Accident investigations

How are investigations of air accidents involving drones regulated in your jurisdiction?

Civil aviation occurrences that take place in or over Canada are investigated by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (the TSB). The purpose of a TSB investigation is to prevent recurrence. The Canadian Aviation Regulations do not provide for any specific rules concerning accident investigations. Most incidents (such as RPAS’ unintended contact with terrain, not involving any other person or aircraft) will not be investigated by the TSB.

Accident reporting

Is there a mandatory accident and incident reporting system for drone operators in your jurisdiction?

An owner or operator of an RPAS must report accidents to the TSB if a person is killed or sustains a serious injury as a result of coming into direct contact with any part of the RPAS, including parts that have become detached from the RPAS.

The Canadian Aviation Regulations require a pilot to stop flying immediately in the case of any injury to a person, unintended contact with a person or aircraft, or any time the RPAS becomes uncontrollable or is not kept within the intended boundaries of its flight. A pilot must keep records of incidents for 12 months and surrender them to the Minister of Transport upon request.

Safety management and risk assessment

Are drone operators required to implement safety management systems and risk assessment procedures within their organisation?

The Canadian Aviation Regulations do not require an RPAS pilot conducting basic or advanced operations to maintain a safety management system. However, if an organisation intends to conduct operations that are beyond the scope of the regulated advanced operations, Transport Canada may require the operator to implement a safety management system or risk assessment procedure as part of the conditions for the issuance of the SFOC.

Ancillary considerations

Import and export control

Do specific import and export control rules apply to drones in your jurisdiction?

There are no specific rules related to the import and export of RPAS in Canada. However, a manufacturer may be required to provide a declaration to the Minister of Transport as to the safety of the RPAS design if it is to be used for certain operations (see above).

Data privacy and IP protection

How are personal data privacy and IP protection regulated in your country with specific reference to drone operations?

Although Canadian privacy laws do not explicitly reference RPAS, these laws apply to pictures, videos and other information collected by an RPAS. A pilot is responsible for all personal information collected by the RPAS. The Copyright Act governs intellectual property law protection (specifically, copyright rights) in Canada. This includes photographs, audio and video captured by RPAS. Businesses in Canada must follow the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act when using RPAS, and may also be subject to provincial private-sector privacy laws.

Update and trends

Sector trends and regulatory developments

Which industry sectors have seen the most development in the use of drones in your jurisdiction and which sectors are expected to see further development in future? Have there been any notable recent regulatory developments relating to drones?

Sector trends and regulatory developments35 Which industry sectors have seen the most development in the use of drones in your jurisdiction and which sectors are expected to see further development in future? Have there been any notable recent regulatory developments relating to drones?

A potential next step in RPAS regulatory development in Canada would be the regulation of BVLOS operations. Transport Canada is currently running a BVLOS pilot project with four companies. Opportunities exist for the use of RPAS in industries including agriculture, construction, defence and public safety, energy, entertainment, infrastructure, insurance, surveying, mining, oil and gas, forestry (including forest fire suppression), photography, real estate and others. RPAS-based delivery operations could transport medical supplies, food, clothing and other general items to remote communities across Canada’s vast geography that are otherwise difficult to access.