Aerodromes vs Airports

One area of confusion when it comes to dealing with Transport Canada aviation regulations is the subtle differences between aerodrome and airport.  While the definitions are very similar and overlap there are slight differences that impact which regulations may apply and how they are applied.

The following document on the TC website provides further details: https://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/civilaviation/publications/tp13549-chapter6-406.htm

Aerodrome or airport—what’s the difference?
The terms airport and aerodrome are often used interchangeably by the aviation industry; legislation and regulation—at least in Canada—make primary use of the latter. For instance, the Canadian Aeronautics Act defines an aerodrome as:

“Any area of land, water (including the frozen surface thereof) or other supporting surface used, designed, prepared, equipped or set apart for use either in whole or in part for the arrival, departure movement or servicing thereon or associated therewith.”

Aerodrome categories
There are three different categories of aerodromes, each presenting progressively different safety requirements. In order of ascending safety level, the categories are listed below:

  • aerodromes (small airstrips located on private property that are neither registered nor certified),
  • registered aerodromes, and
  • certified aerodromes, referred to as airports.

Registered aerodromes
While listed, registered aerodromes are not certified as airports in the Canada Flight Supplement (CFS)—a publication for pilots containing operating information for registered aerodromes and airports. Registered aerodromes are not subject to ongoing inspection by Transport Canada; however, they are inspected periodically to verify compliance with Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs) and to ensure the accuracy of information published in the CFS and the Water Aerodrome Supplement (WAS). In spite of these efforts, pilots planning to use a registered aerodrome are still expected to contact aerodrome operators to confirm CFS information is current.

Certified aerodromes
Airports are aerodromes certified under Subsection 302.03 of the CARs. Despite regulations that govern registered and non-registered aerodromes, the onus remains on a pilot to determine whether an aerodrome is safe and suitable. Regulations are in place primarily to protect those unfamiliar with an airport environment—the fare-paying public and those residing in the vicinity who could be affected by unsafe airport operations.

So it summary, an airport is a certified aerodrome as per the Canadian Flight Supplement & Water Aerodrome Supplement designations.

Where can I fly my drone??

With tight restrictions on where recreational drones/models can now be used in Canada many owners are wondering where they can legally fly.

The main issue involved:

  • 9 km of any airport/aerodrome/helipad.
  • 250 feet (75m) from buildings, vehicles, people.

Even in more rural/suburban areas, getting 250′ feet from neighbors and roads can be a challenge.  The local soccer/ball field that many may have used before is many times bordering residential areas or next to a school or community center.

That being said, there are still areas available for recreational model use within most cities.  As part of the regulations was an exclusion for MAAC (Model Aeronautics Association of Canada) fields.  If you are interested more in the RC hobby definitely check for a local club as it can be a great place to learn.

For many however the aircraft & flight aspects of drone use are not the focus, and it is more about getting unique aerial photos and video, so flying at the same field all the time may not meet their needs.

To help determine where the new zones apply the NRC website is a good resource.  While not perfect it is currently one of the few accessible locations to find information on where controlled airspace and airports are located – NRC UAV Site Selection Tool
(One item to note on the NRC site is that many aerodromes are shown with only a 3NM circle, not the 5NM/9KM zone of the recent regulations.)

Another tool for mobile users is UAV Forecast.  The app provides mapping capabilities and you can set the distance around each type of airspace and airport.  Available for both iOS and Android.

AirMarket is another new online resource for UAV operators that provides online flight planning and maps as a paid service.  A free trial is available.

In addition this article outlines other related tools to assist with determining airspace and related information: Canadian Aviation Chart Resources

NOTE:  There are many other areas that may also be off limits.  Parks Canada and many cities and other areas have bylaws that restrict drone use as well.  The links above mainly focus on the airspace and aviation areas outlined by the new Transport Canada regulations.




Drone vs UAV vs Model Aircraft – What are they??

With the new Canadian “drone” recreational regulations there is a lot of confusion around what they apply to and what a model is vs a UAV vs a drone.  When it comes to Transport Canada regulations the name and wording is important.

First off the term “drone” is not an official name used in the regulations,  it is more a media/public label catch all for any remote aircraft, although generally thought of as camera carrying quadcopters such as the DJI Phantom.

In the Transport Canada dictionary there are basically two definitions: Model Aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicle or UAV and the main difference is if they are used commercially or recreationally.

model aircraft means an aircraft, the total weight of which does not exceed 35 kg (77.2 pounds), that is mechanically driven or launched into flight for recreational purposes and that is not designed to carry persons or other living creatures.

unmanned air vehicle means a power-driven aircraft, other than a model aircraft, that is designed to fly without a human operator on board.

The exact same aircraft is defined differently based on its use.  Basically if it is used commercially it is an UAV, if it is recreational then it is a Model Aircraft, and the associated regulations then apply to the type.  The same “drone” such as a DJI Phantom is a Model Aircraft if flown for fun and an UAV if flown for commercial use.

The new March 16 2017 regulations are for Model Aircraft used recreationally – http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/mediaroom/interim-order-respecting-use-model-aircraft.html

What are Complex Operations?

Since the release of the NPA for new proposed regulations back in May 2015 there seems to be ongoing confusion around the impact on the need for Compliant aircraft.  It is stated that UAVs must meet a design standard, basically equivalent to current Complaint systems, to operate in “complex operations”.

This often seems to get downplayed and implies that “complex” would be the rare edge cases and perhaps most operators would not fall into this type of work.  However this is not the case, in fact many current SFOC holding operators would no doubt have at least part of their  work deemed “complex”.

Complex Operations may entail the following, based on what has been stated as per the NPA:

  • Any flight in controlled airspace.
  • Any flight at night.
  • Any flight within a specified distance to an aerodrome (3-5NM).
  • Any flight within a specified distance of a built-up area (3-5NM).
  • Any flight over people.


So unless you are working in Class G airspace away from built-up areas, you will most likely fall into the complex category. For us at Flitelab, easily 70% of out work would fall under “complex”, making the need for compliant aircraft a major concern.

As of this article there are 8 Compliant UAVs, many of which are outside the price range of most small operators, and many do not meet the feature set required for many uses.

Based on the latest information from Transport Canada at the USC Conference just this week, the push is still on to require compliant systems.  This could basically render many systems in use now as useless unless manufacturers choose to work towards compliance which is an unknown at this stage.

We will not know the final impact until the new regulations are made public for review in early 2017, but all indications are that a major change is coming that could impact many operators.

Use & Abuse of Terminology in the Canadian UAV Industry

As the UAV industry grows in Canada there are many new companies getting involved in various aspects from manufacturing, training, consulting, and providing aerial services.  As part of this growth is the marketing aspect as new companies push to find clients and expand their exposure in the industry.  It is the wild west and everyone is putting out a shingle in hopes of getting noticed.

With most marketing campaigns companies are looking to set themselves apart from the competition and show their unique offerings. With that can come “marketing spin” when things are pushed to their limits in terms of meaning. Often there is a fine line in the use of certain terminology which can imply something that may not always be the case, especially in the context of how the terms are defined and used by Transport Canada, with companies trying to highlight their services or make their offering stand out from the competition. Care must be taken in how these terms are used and interpreted when trying to decide between companies offering similar drone services.

The way that UAV service providers operate legally in Canada is via what is called an “SFOC” or “Special Flight Operations Certificate”. Operators apply to Transport Canada for an SFOC that allows them to conduct commercial UAV flights, typically for a defined geographic region and within a certain set of flight parameters.  As part of the application process the operator defines their operating and safety procedures as well as processes for managing their crews, aircraft, etc. Transport Cnaada reviews the request and procedures and if they feel it will provide for safe flight operations then a SFOC is granted. Each SFOC is unique so the specific details can vary from operator to operator in regards to when and where they can fly, such as in controlled airspace, at night, maximum altitudes, etc; not all SFOCs are equal so having one in and of itself does not grant the holder to a free for all of drone use, limitations and restriction exist even with an SFOC.

For training there are no current Transport Canada approved/licensed/certified UAV providers.  Transport Canada has defined a set of “knowledge requirements” on which most providers base their curriculum, but they do not certify the courses or trainers. However, organizations offering training that meets the knowledge requirements will be expected to provide Transport Canada with a written self declaration attesting to the compliance of their courseware and testing. Thereafter, SFOC applicants with pilots who have successfully completed such a compliant course will be able to reference that course and ground school provider in their SFOC application as proof of pilot knowledge.

There are also no official exams at this stage (this may be part of the new regulations coming in late 2016/early 2017).  Training currently can be provided by any company looking to do so, from established manned aviation training centers, to new UAV specific startups, as well as online self study, and in house training.


Transport Canada UAV VLOS Operations Clarification

We received the following update on Transport Canada UAV VLOS Operations Clarification

Recent interpretation from headquarters allows for more flexibility with regard to visual observers.  Please reference the direction below from headquarters UAV specialist Mark Wuennenberg.

 As requested we are providing the following clarification of the guidance provided in the current Staff Instruction regarding the requirements for a UAV to be operated within Visual Line-of-Sight (VLOS)

To begin we provide the current SI guidance.

Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) –means unaided (corrective lenses and/or sunglasses exempted) visual contact with the aircraft sufficient to be able to maintain operational control of the aircraft, know its location, and be able to scan the airspace in which it is operating to decisively see and avoid other air traffic or objects.

Visual Observers

(a) A visual observer is a crew member assigned and trained to perform duties associated with the provision of sense and avoid, such as continuously monitoring the UAV and the airspace (e.g. for other traffic, clouds, obstructions and terrain) both around and sufficiently beyond the UAV. For operations within VLOS, a visual observer(s) will be required unless a safety case can be provided that shows how the risks can otherwise be mitigated.

(b) The primary task of the visual observer is to provide the PIC with information to manoeuvre the aircraft clear of any hazards and any potential collision with ground obstructions or air traffic. Additionally, the visual observer must assist the UAV pilot to comply with applicable SFOC conditions, such as flight visibility and cloud clearance requirements and keeping the aircraft within VLOS. The visual observer must be able to see the aircraft and the surrounding airspace throughout the entire flight. They must be able to determine the aircraft’s relative altitude, flight path, and proximity to all aviation activities and other hazards (e.g. terrain, weather, structures) sufficiently to prevent the aircraft from creating a collision hazard.

The intent of the above guidance is to allow the use of visual observers, in lieu of the pilot maintaining visual contact with the aircraft, in situations where the pilot must focus on the ground station to effectively fly the UAV and/or to allow the extension of the operational area by using several visual observers to provide direction to the pilot as to when and where to maneuver the aircraft and provide the sense and avoid function.

This activity remains visual line-of-sight as the visual observer maintains visual contact with the aircraft and the surrounding airspace.