I work with a lot of drone entrepreneurs and the majority are overwhelmed by all the info out there when we first meet. They are frustrated in the pursuit of getting a clear understanding of what they need to do to be compliant, and sometimes, they think the authorities in Canada might be taking this as their mantra:

We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!
Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

This isn’t the case for Transport Canada when it comes to Drones. They have clear defined rules, though there are many, when you operate and fly. Yes, it’s true -understanding them and how they relate to you and your organization can be complex. That’s why we are here for you!

Check out this guide to know exactly what rules you need to follow to operate a UAV (now know as UAS – Unmanned Aircraft System) in Canada.




1. Obtain an SFOC

Got SFOC? In many cases, you will need to get a Special Flight Operation Certificate (SFOC) to fly legally in Canada, commercial or recreational. Even if you satisfy the exemption rules, you may need to let the government know that you are flying – depending on the class of your UAV.

If an operator flies without an SFOC and one is required, Transport Canada can issue fines up to $5,000 for a person and up to $25,000 for a corporation if found in violation. That being said, in the case of an operator found not following the requirements of their SFOC, Transport Canada can issue fines up to $3,000 for a person and up to $15,000 for a corporation.

For more info on the SFOC and exemption rules, check out our earlier article, The Drone Zone, Getting to Know Canada’s UAV Rules

2. Get Insured

Before flying a drone for commercial operations in Canada, you must have $100,000 insurance before you take flight. Contact Drone Insurance Depot, or a colleague of ours here in Montreal, Thierry Charrette of LP Sarrazin & Fils Insurance.

If you fly as a hobbyist, you also need coverage provided by an organization like the the Model Aeronautics Association of Canada (MAAC).

3. Flight Planning

Before you take off, make sure you know and understand the rules and regulations in your area. This goes for anyone flying, either as a hobbyist or for commercial purposes. You want to be sure you’ll be able to fly as planned, without the authorities showing up or getting a fine. In Canada, if you put an passenger aircraft at risk, fly where you are not authorized, or endanger anyone’s safety, you could face serious consequences – including up to $25,000 in fines and/or jail time.

It is important that you are confident that you are all clear before you fly. Many of my clients find it helpful to fill out a pre-flight checklist to ensure that they have covered all the basis and have a green light. Much like you need to make sure you to hit a water main when you start to digg.

4. Flying Outside the Danger Zone

Always choose a wide-open space for every flight, well away from people, property and obstacles (like trees and hydro lines/poles). Note that you cannot fly higher than 90 metres above ground level or within 150 metres of people, animals, buildings, structures or vehicles.

The following No Drone Zones also apply. You cannot operate a drone:

  • Within 9 km of airports, heliports, aerodromes, or built-up areas such as a city centre
  • Over highways, bridges, busy streets, populated areas or crowds
  • In or over parks, military bases, prisons, or in restricted airspace
  • Within 9 km of forest fires


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5. Check Weather

Have you checked the weather? Just like any other kind of aircraft, the weather can pose a risk. Not only could your drone be damaged, but some weather conditions could lead you to lose control of your UAV that could result in a number of mishaps to your aircraft, to those around you and/or to property. Injury or damages caused by your UAV can result in fines and criminal charges, as mentioned above.

6. Inspect Your Aircraft

Ensure your drone is ready for flight by inspecting it for damages and wear before taking off.

Batteries Charged

Before you take flight, make sure you’re flying on a full charge. You’ll want to plan ahead, since, depending on your battery, it may need up to 2 hours or more to completely charge. The last thing you want is your battery to not be able to come back home in one peice cause you ran out of power.

“The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.”
Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

We all have had a dropped call because our one-year old cellphone can’t hold a charge like it use to. Well, the batteries on drones are made from the same materials as in your cellphone. As such, they wear out. So, before take off, verify your battery health and make sure its usage history is within the acceptable limits set by the manufacturer. Failure to do so could lead to an unexpected drop in battery performance which could result in a crash of your UAV.

While some drones have a “return home” function or “low battery” warnings once the battery level gets too low, it is important to note that these are just triggered when the battery goes below the set threshold value set by the manufacturer. These features, in many cases, do not take into consideration the amount of energy required to return home. In addition, many of the inexpensive consumer drones do not undergo rigorous testing to ensure the safety features are implemented correctly. As such, as the pilot it is your responsibility to make sure your aircraft has enough in the tank to make it back home safe or you could risk a crash.


Make sure that the propellers are in good condition, are secured to the motors and installed in the correct configuration. Failure to do this could result in your aircraft not being able to take off or worse yet having the potential of a propeller coming off and injuring someone or causing damages to property.

7. Inspect Controller and Ground Station

Check your controller, ground station and any other devices communicating with your UAV and its components to see that they are fully charged – to ensure continued connectivity.

As a best practice, always turn the controller on and allow it to boot up before turning on the UAV. Likewise, and if applicable, the same should be done with the ground station prior to activating the UAV. Also, always turn the UAV off before turning off the controller and ground station. The reason for this is simple: If your drone is switched on and recognized your controller in a non-neutral position during its boot stage, your drone could take off in a snap and fly right into someone or something. In this scenario, unfortunately, until the controller has completed its boot stage you can do nothing but watch.

Post author

Sean Smith, a forward thinking challenge oriented tech entrepreneur excellent at transforming innovative ideas and concepts, and developing them into sustainable companies. Having served in senior level leadership positions at both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations, including as the Head of QuEST's Canadian Business Unit and as a Board Member for organizations focused on technology and welfare. Founder of Smith Management (Business Management Consulting) and VOZWIN (UAV Technology) in 2015, an awarding winning executive (2014 Wings Magazine Top 20 Under 40 Award Recipient), a recognized stakeholder by Transport Canada for UAV related items, and a founding member of the ENSCO Canadian Division, ENSCO's first international subsidiary (ENSCO Avionics Canada Inc.). Experienced with site start-up, lean operation, finance, technical and management leadership for projects spanning full life-cycle engineering development, growth strategy and business planning. Sean had been with ENSCO for over 10 years. He began his career at ENSCO in 2006 as a systems analyst and subsequently occupied positions of increasing responsibility in engineering and operations. He was the manager of Canadian operations from 2007 to 2011 before taking on the responsibilities as Director. During his tenure at ENSCO, he has been a key collaborator in the setup, development, strategic planning, marketing and growth of the Canadian subsidiary. Sean earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering with a specialization in thermodynamics, fluid dynamics and propulsion systems in 2005 from Concordia University. In his final year of his undergraduate program, he was awarded with the Richard M.H. Cheng Award by the University for his unique unmanned aerial vehicle design.

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