Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), otherwise known as drones

by Shaheen Chohan, Aviation Safety Policy Analyst, RPAS Task Force, Civil Aviation

Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), otherwise known as drones, have become increasingly popular over the last several years. Advances in technology have made drones an increasingly efficient and effective tool for conducting inspections, delivering cargo and medical supplies, and responding to emergencies. Like any change to a system, however, the introduction of drones to Canada’s civil aviation system has created new hazards and challenges.

To mitigate the hazards associated with the growing number of drone operations, Transport Canada published Part IX of the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs)in January 2019, which outlines rules for flying drones in Canada.

The new regulations came into force on June 1st, 2019 and apply to drones that weigh between 250 g and 25 kg operated in visual line of sight. The rules introduce two categories of drones operations: basic and advanced. Each one has a different set of rules drone pilots must follow. To operate their drone in either category, pilots must register their drone online and mark their drone with their registration number. They must also obtain a pilot certificate by completing an online exam. Pilots who wish to conduct advanced operations must also successfully pass a flight review.

Here is a simplified version of the two operating environments and some of the associated rules:

  Basic Environment Advanced Environment
Altitude under 400 ft AGL as approved by air traffic control (if within controlled airspace; otherwise under
400 ft AGL)
Airspace outside of controlled airspace within controlled airspace*
Proximity to people More than 30 m away More than 5 m away*
Over people no yes*
Proximity to airports more than 3 NM at or near airports**
Proximity to heliports more than 1 NM at or near heliports**
Proximity to uncertified aerodromes at or near uncertified aerodromes at or near uncertified aerodromes
Night operations with appropriate lighting with appropriate lighting

*the drone must meet the appropriate safety assurance profile and the pilot must have permission from NAV CANADA
**advanced drone pilots flying at or near airports and heliports must follow the established procedure for drone operations.

Regardless of operating category, a drone pilot must ensure they fly their drone within their visual line-of-sight (VLOS), away from emergency operations and advertised events, and far away from other aircraft.

Drones that weigh less than 250 g, also known as microdrones, are not required to be registered and pilots are not required to have a pilot certificate in order to operate. Regardless of size, however, all drones must be flown in a way that does not pose a risk to aviation or people on the ground.

One fundamental change from other sections of the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs) is the elimination of the distinction between commercial and recreational users. Part IX of the CARs applies to every drone pilot regardless of the purpose of their mission.

As pilots, it is our job to mitigate risk. Drones are a new entrant to the National Civil Air Transportation System and as such, their emergence has created a new risk: collisions between drones and traditional aviation. It is the responsibility of drone pilots to remain clear of areas within which traditional aircraft operate, and to keep their drone in control and in sight so that when another aircraft is detected they’re able to take immediate action to give way. However, pilots of traditional aircraft should understand the operating environment Part IX of the CARs created for drone operations, so they can plan their flights in a way that further reduces risk. Avoiding collisions is a responsibility all pilots share. To further minimize the risk of a collision, pilots of traditional aircraft should avoid flights below 400 ft AGL in uncontrolled airspace and take additional care to fly standard circuits at uncertified aerodromes, as that is where other airspace users are going to expect aircraft to be.

The full integration of drone operations into our airspace will take some time, but eventually drones will be as commonplace in our skies as traditional aviation. For more information on drones and drone safety, please visit the Transport Canada Drone Safety website.