On March 15th 2017 the Minister of Transport published an Interim Order governing the recreational operation of unmanned aerial vehicles and model aircraft pursuant to the Aeronautics Actwhich act to significantly circumscribe use of the increasingly popular toys. Individual operators can face fines of $3000 for failing to follow the rules (including those in the Interim Order) and up to $25,000 for operation that endangers safety or puts aircraft at risk.

Readers should note the Interim Order is not the expected comprehensive regulations anticipated for later this year, as discussed in this June 2016 Executive Summary, and their announcement may indicate a delay in the tabling of those regulations.

“Model Aircraft” are defined in the Interim Order as unmanned flying craft greater than 250 grams but not more than 35kgs and not designed to carry passengers or animals (e.g., most recreational “drones” available to consumers). Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) are those over 35kgs.

Under s.5(1) flying of Model Aircraft is prohibited (inter alia):

  • at an altitude of more than 90 m (300′);
  • at a lateral distance of less than 75 m (250′) from persons, buildings, vehicles, etc.;
  • within 9 km of the center of an aerodrome;
  • over or within the perimeter of a police or an emergency first responder site;
  • over or within an open-air assembly of persons;
  •  at night.

Further, the operator must always maintain Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) with the drone, and must in any event remain within 500 lateral meters of the drone.

Drone enthusiasts are expressing concern over these restrictions.

In particular, the prohibition on operation of drones within 9km or an aerodrome means that, for example, almost the entire city of Toronto has an outright prohibition on operation as a result of Pearson, Billy Bishop, Downsview, and Buttonville airports only, as marked on the map below. Other no-fly aerodromes such as the hospital helipads are not marked but act to restrict operation further.


Map of Toronto and surroundings from Google Maps with 9 km aerodrome restrictions marked by the author.

In combination with the prohibition on operation within 250 feet of persons, buildings, or vehicles, a prospective urban drone pilot must find park or green space with an unoccupied diameter of at least 1000 feet to permit even limited recreational use in the space left uncovered by these zones.

The problem is not only a Toronto problem: most of Hamilton and almost all of Oshawa are in the no-fly shadows of Munro Hamilton Airport and the Oshawa Executive Airport, respectively, and many rural residents may be surprised to learn that small but operational aerodromes create large no-fly zones in places like Elmira, Fergus, Collingwood, Huntsville, and Lindsay, ON.

The operational altitude restriction of 300 feet also seems restrictive, particularly as the VLOS requirement has no exceptions. The Canadian Aviation Regulations require (manned) aircraft to fly at least 1000′ above built up areas; a substantially higher maximum ceiling for drones of 600′ or even 750′ would still provide a healthy buffer between recreational drones and aircraft while doubling (or more than doubling) the flyable vertical space available to recreational users.

When the expected regulations are published in the Canada Gazette they will be open for public comment; operators and members of the public concerned about the Interim Order should contact the office of the Hon. Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport.