Canadian Recreational Drone Rules Confusion

How_do_I_fly_safelyWith reports in the media of apparent “near miss” events between manned and unmanned aircraft almost a weekly event it seems, there is a lot of misinformation and confusion around what the actual Canadian recreational drone regulations are.

Often referenced is the Transport Canada website Flying an unmanned aircraft recreationally, which outlines the following basic Dos and Don’ts for model aircraft under 35kgs:


  • Fly your aircraft during daylight and in good weather (not in clouds or fog).
  • Keep your aircraft in sight, where you can see it with your own eyes – not only through an on-board camera, monitor or smartphone.
  • Make sure your aircraft is safe for flight before take-off. Ask yourself, for example, are the batteries fully charged? Is it too cold to fly?
  • Know if you need permission to fly and when to apply for a Special Flight Operations Certificate
  • Respect the privacy of others – avoid flying over private property or taking photos or videos without permission.


  • Closer than 9 km from any airport, heliport, or aerodrome.
  • Higher than 90 metres from above the ground.
  • Closer than 150 metres from people, animals, buildings, structures, or vehicles.
  • In populated areas or near large groups of people, including sporting events, concerts, festivals, and firework shows.
  • Near moving vehicles, avoid highways, bridges, busy streets or anywhere you could endanger or distract drivers.
  • Within restricted airspace, including near or over military bases, prisons, and forest fires.
  • Anywhere you may interfere with first responders

While these are definitely good guidelines that should be followed, the reality is that currently the only law that exists in regards to recreational drones, or model aircraft in general, is CAR 602.45:

No person shall fly a model aircraft or a kite or launch a model rocket or a rocket of a type used in a fireworks display into cloud or in a manner that is or is likely to be hazardous to aviation safety.

As a result there is a huge grey area, which is open to much interpretation over what is likely to be seen as “hazardous to aviation safety”.  

On the commercial side of things these regulations are much more defined, and operators are placed in a much smaller box around when and where they can operate UAVs, as well as being required to have liability insurance, which is not mandatory for recreational users.

This issue is being addressed under the proposed new regulations currently in development and outlined in the NPA, making for more defined laws across the board for both recreational and commercial use of such aircraft, but these may not be in place until late 2016 or early 2017.

In the meantime there is a real gap in the regulations which puts enforcement officers, which have already limited resources, in a tough situation when trying to deal with rouge drones.  It should however be noted that over and above the Transport Canada specific drone regulations, unsafe users can still be charged under other laws, such as those dealing with privacy, general hazards to public, traffic, etc.

As it stands now people need to use a bit of common sense and follow a basic code of conduct when flying drones; respect the privacy and space of others and take an active part in keeping the skies safe.  The unfortunate fact however is that common sense is not that common.

Don’t be afraid of being scared. To be afraid is a sign of common sense. Only complete idiots are not afraid of anything.
― Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Angel’s Game


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