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A bird? A plane? No, it’s new drone regulations

A graphic shows a drone superimposed on a satellite image of Great Slave Lake and the North Slave
A graphic shows a drone superimposed on a satellite image of Great Slave Lake and the North Slave.

Looking to fly your drone in the NWT but worried about the rules? Panic no longer. Transport Canada has released new regulations for drone operation.

On June 1, the old division between recreational and commercial use ceased to exist.

Where there had been two sets of rules, there’s now just one process to follow to get your drone in the air.

Justin Miller, a flight operations technical and team leader for Transport Canada told Cabin Radio the change is designed to simplify the process.



Basically, you must now learn two types of operating environment – and then know which one of them you’re in.

“The first one is a ‘basic’ operating environment,” said Miller. “This is outside of controlled airspace, below 122 metres (or 400 feet), more than 30 metres from people [horizontally – i.e. never directly above them], more than three nautical miles from an airport, and one nautical mile from a heliport.”

Looking to fly a drone outside controlled airspace? Get your basic pilot’s certificate (which involves an online exam), register your drone, and pay a $5 fee, said Miller.

Transport Canada has set up a web portal for that, and says the process should take you less than 10 minutes.



So, that’s one type of operating environment.

The second type, which is more complicated, is called an advanced environment.

“The ‘advanced’ environment is basically everything that the basic environment is not,” said Miller.

“This means everything inside controlled airspace: within three nautical miles of an airport or one nautical mile of a heliport, within 30 metres of people [horizontally], or directly over top of people.”

If you need to fly in an advanced environment, you still start by registering your drone.

However, after that, your drone needs to meet certain safety standards, you need an advanced pilot’s certificate – which includes getting your flight plan reviewed by a third party, possibly at an extra cost.

To fly in controlled airspace you also need written authorization, which you can get from Nav Canada.

Basic or advanced?

We know, we know. You don’t know if you’re in a basic or advanced operating environment. Here’s how you find out.



The quick way is using a map on the Transport Canada website. This map tells you what counts as controlled airspace and what doesn’t, which is going to be most operators’ biggest concern.

For people in the NWT, here are some basics:

  • Any part of Yellowknife is in controlled airspace, so you’re automatically in an advanced environment and need to follow the advanced checklist;
  • Once you pass the Dettah turn-off, anywhere up the Ingraham Trail from that point is uncontrolled airspace and you’re fine following the basic checklist (if you follow the Dettah road, though, you’re still in controlled airspace);
  • Many NWT communities have a three-nautical-mile exclusion zone around their aerodromes… although not all of them. Check the map, linked above;
  • For national parks – like Nahanni or Wood Buffalo – talk to Parks Canada for permission before you fly a drone.

“Contravention of the regulations will result in fines that can vary anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 for individuals, or $5,000 to $15,000 for corporations,” said Miller.