One of the most common conversations I have with people interested in buying a drone is whether they will need a license to fly it, and how to get that license. 

The answer depends on what type of drone you are purchasing, and how and where you want to fly your drone. If you’re getting a drone, or are planning to, read on to see the license requirements you’ll need to meet, and how to get there if required.

What License do I need to fly a drone?

In June of 2018, Transport Canada introduced Part IX of the Canadian Aviation Regulations to address the rapidly growing use of drones in Canadian airspace. Drones, now known as Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), are treated more like proper aircraft in these regulations, and in some cases require a pilot certificate to operate.

In Canada, all drones weighing between 250g to 25kg require a license to fly. Drones weighing less than 250g do not require a license to fly and are not regulated by Part IX of the Canadian Aviation Regulations. However, Transport Canada states that it is the pilot’s responsibility to fly the drone in a safe and respectable manner that will not endanger aviation safety or the safety of others. 

Once a drone’s weight climbs above 250g, the type of operations license depends on how and where you want to fly. These licenses are split into 2 main categories – Basic and Advanced operations. 

Basic Operations

A basic operation refers to any flight that meets all 5 of the following conditions. 

    • Operations are in uncontrolled airspace
    • Operations will maintain a distance of 30 meters, measured horizontally, from bystanders
    • Operations will not fly over bystanders
    • Operations will be more than 3 nautical miles from an Airport or Military Aerodrome
    • Operations will be more than 1 nautical mile from a heliport

For basic operations, there is often confusion over what is considered controlled airspace and what is not. After all, on Transport Canada’s own homepage, it states that pilots in basic operations must remain more than 3 nautical miles away from a certified airport and 1 nautical mile away from certified heliports, giving the illusion that these minimum distance requirements apply to ALL airports and heliports. In reality, the distance requirements vary and are usually much greater than this.

For example, St. John’s International Airport (CYYT) has a 7 nautical mile radius control zone. If you fly at 3.1 nautical miles from the airport under basic operations, you are flying illegally and could be fined.

Always check the drone site selection tool to help determine if your flight will enter controlled airspace.

Advanced Operations Certificate

Conversely, an Advanced Operations refers to any operation that meets any 1 of the following conditions. 

    • You want to fly in controlled airspace
    • You want to fly over bystanders
    • You want to fly within 30 metres (100 feet) of bystanders (measured horizontally)
    • You want to fly less than 3 nautical miles from a certified airport or a military aerodrome
    • You want to fly less than 1 nautical mile from a certified heliport

If you want to operate your drone in any of the above scenarios, you will need an advanced operations certificate. 

Additionally, advanced operations present additional rules and regulations that must be met and maintained by the pilot at all times. These include:

    • Register your drone with Transport Canada before you fly it for the first time
    • Mark your drone with its registration number
    • Have a drone with the appropriate Safety declaration for the intended operation
    • Be able to show your Pilot Certificate – Advanced Operations and proof of registration when you fly your drone
    • Seek permission from air traffic control (NAV CANADA or the Department of National Defence) to fly in controlled airspace (request an RPAS Flight Authorization from NAV CANADA)
    • Fly within the operational limits of your drone

Obtaining and Maintaining your Drone License

Once you have determined the type of license you will require to operate your drone, the next question is how do you get the appropriate license? 

In both cases, certification requires to completion of an online exam through Transport Canada. An overview of each certificate and its requirements is provided below.

Basic Operations Certificate

To earn a Basic Operations Certificate, you must complete Transport Canada’s Basic RPAS Operations knowledge test online.

The test costs $10 CAD, and eligible candidates must be at least 14 years of age. 

Transport Canada recommends attending a drone flight school prior to attempting the exam.

In choosing a flight school, you should use an approved training organization from transport canada’s flight school database. As one of the organizations listed on this database, our pilot certifications courses are designed for commercial and industrial operators with standards that exceed Transport Canada’s defined Knowledge Requirements for Pilots of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems.  

Advanced Operations Certificate

To earn an Advanced Operations Certificate, candidates must complete Transport Canada’s Advanced RPAS Operations knowledge test followed by an in-person flight review.

Think of the flight review like a driving test, where you will demonstrate your knowledge of safety procedures, flight planning, and safe RPAS operation.

In addition to the test costs, an Advanced Operations Certificate has an additional fee of $25 CAD. Eligible candidates for the Advanced Operations Certificate must be at least 16 years of age. 

Similar to the Basic Operations Certificate, Transport Canada recommends attending a flight school prior to the exam. In the case of our Certification program, we offer flight review training and evaluation that teaches how to plan flights, fly proficiently and conduct an operation prior to conducting your flight review. 

Maintaining your License

To remain certified, you will need to keep your skills up to date. Every 2 years (24 months), Pilot Certificate holders must successfully complete one of the following recency requirements:

    • Re-taking and passing either the Basic or Advanced Knowledge examination
    • Successfully passing a flight review
    • Completing any one of the following training activities
      • attendance at a safety seminar endorsed by Transport Canada Aviation
      • completion of a drone recurrent training program from a drone flight school
      • completion of a Transport Canada endorsed study program

Failure to maintain your certification may result in you losing your certification. As with your pilot certificate, you must be able to provide proof of certificate maintenance during an operation.