Step by Step Guide How to Become A Professional Drone Pilot in Canada

In 2017 we wrote an article entitled “How To Become a Drone Pilot in Canada in 3 Easy Steps” which has become our most popular blog post of all time! The article is now unfortunately outdated as there are new drone regulations in place in Canada, as of June 1st, 2019. The entire system has changed!

Now, are you ready for the good news?

It is way easier to fly drones (professionally) in Canada now than it has ever been!

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Transport Canada has tried to make the process as automated as possible, to take away one of the most frustrating parts of the old system for becoming a drone pilot in Canada, and that was… waiting!

Under the old rules, you would need to apply for a Special Flight Operations Certificate which could take several months to pass through the queue of other applications.

Let us show you why the new Canadian drone regulations are much better than the old system. We’ve outlined this simple step-by-step process to become a professional RPAS pilot in Canada, and you can do so by following our new guide…

Step by Step Guide How to Become a Drone Pilot in Canada

Before we get started, we want to preface this guide by stating that there are now two distinct types of drone pilot certificates available in Canada, “Basic” and “Advanced.” Because a “professional” drone pilot should be able to operate in any type of airspace to meet a client’s requirements, we have designed this article to cater specifically towards the Advanced RPAS pilot, which we will discuss now…

Step 1: What Type of Drone Pilot Certificate Do I Need?

As we just mentioned, there are two types of Transport Canada RPAS Pilot Certificates. This is the difference between the two:

  • Basic:

    • Limited to uncontrolled airspace (Class G). This means that there is no air traffic control personnel monitoring the airspace, and any aircraft may operate in the area. Uncontrolled airspace is usually found in rural and remote areas, away from larger cities with high-traffic airports.

    • Must maintain a horizontal distance of 100 feet from people who are not associated with your operation. This means any people that you will not be including in your “site survey” or “operation plan.”

    • Must remain at least 3 nautical miles (NM) from certified airports, or 1 NM from heliports. This trips many people up, because without proper training, you may find it difficult identifying “certified airports” on a map (see Step 3)

    • Pilots must pass a “Small Basic Exam” on Transport Canada’s “Drone Management Portal” website. More on this in “Step 3: Complete Advanced RPAS Ground School Training”

    • Pilots must be at least 14 years of age to get certified in this category

  • Advanced:

    • In order to operate in an area requiring an Advanced pilot certificate, you must use an RPAS platform that has been declared SAFE (safety assured flight envelope) by the manufacturer. Depending on the level of safety assurance declared by the manufacturer, you may be able to:

      • operate in controlled airspace;

      • operate near (between 16.4ft up to 100ft) people; and

      • operate over (less than 16.4ft) people.

      Find the list of Transport Canada “SAFE” RPAS platforms here, “Choosing The Right Drone”. We’ll discuss this process further in Step 2: Register Your RPAS (Drone) with Transport Canada.

    • Pilots must pass a “Small Advanced Exam” on Transport Canada’s “Drone Management Portal” website. More on this in “Step 3: Complete Advanced RPAS Ground School Training”

    • Pilots must be at least 16 years of age to get certified in this category

It is highly advisable to get your Advanced pilot certification to enable you access to more, and potentially higher paying drone jobs!

Step 2: Register Your RPAS (Drone) with Transport Canada

This step is straight forward. Go to Transport Canada’s website and navigate to their “Registering Your Drone: Overview” website, which outlines the process for registering your RPAS.

Remember, for pilots operating under the Advanced category, you will need a “SAFE" RPAS platform (see the previous step).

Ensure that you mark your drone with it’s unique registration number before you fly. The penalty for operating an unregistered drone is $1,000 for a person and $5,000 for a corporation… so don’t forget this step!

Step 3: Complete Advanced RPAS Ground School Training

This step is no longer a requirement as per the regulations, as you were previously required to complete a Transport Canada self-declared compliant RPAS Ground School program. Though it is not technically a requirement, it is extremely valuable and a good program will provide you with not only the knowledge to pass your Advanced RPAS Pilot Certificate exam, but also methods, document templates, practice exams, strategies, industry know-how (through experience), and much more!

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There are 61 RPAS Ground Schools sprinkled across Canada. Some schools specialize in a specific type of training, or for specific groups (employees of the company, for example), and some schools have a wide range of training available for multiple competencies in the industry. Some schools are entirely online content, never requiring you to leave your office desk… and some are more hands-on and interactive, with highly experienced instructors able to provide anecdotal expertise.

One thing is for sure… not all RPAS Ground School’s are created equal. Do your due diligence before signing up for Ground School training.

Click the image to read the feedback from Transport Canada on our Ground School program.

Click the image to read the feedback from Transport Canada on our Ground School program.

It’s time for a shameless plug! M3 Aerial Productions has trained over 700 RPAS pilots across Canada since 2016, running courses in nearly every province and territory. Our program is offered as a 3rd year science credit course at Brandon University in the Advanced Geomatics program, and was the first course in Canada to be audited by Transport Canada, confirmed to have met the requirements set out in the standards document TP 15263 “Knowledge Requirements for Pilots of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems, 250g Up To and Including 25kg, Operating Within Visual Line of Sight.”

Pilots who graduate from the M3 Aerial Productions Advanced RPAS Ground School program get access to exclusive benefits, and are able to join the largest network of uniformly trained Canadian drone pilots in the country, the FlyWithM3 Pilot Network.

Looking for references? We’ve got quite a few! Check out our Testimonials and Media sections on our website!

Our program starts at $799 per person, but just for reading this blog, you can use a special discount code STEPBYSTEP to receive $99 OFF. Code will be active until December 31st, 2019. Limit 1 per customer. Valid via credit card. Contact Us if you’d like to pay via e-transfer.

Step 4: Write and Pass the Transport Canada Drone Pilot Online Exam

Once you are confident that you have a strong grasp of the Knowledge Requirements, you can register to write the Transport Canada Small Advanced RPAS Exam. The exam features 50 multiple choice questions coming from a bank of nearly 1800 questions. You have 60 minutes to complete the exam, and are required to achieve a score of 80% or higher to pass.

Earlier this year, Transport Canada announced publicly that a concerning number of people have failed the Advanced exam. They indicated a pass rate of around 15% (as of May 2019), and that many people have written the exam dozens of times before passing.

This should NOT be the case!

This is happening because many people are writing the exam with no prior knowledge or understanding of aviation. A quality ground school program should prepare students to pass the exam on the first or second try. We’ve had many people send us notes telling us that they passed on the first attempt and that they couldn’t believe it!

One final note about the exam… there are questions that will make you scratch your head and wonder “what does this have to do with drones…?” Unfortunately, this has been widely attested to, and Transport Canada has indicated that they have been trying to update the questions that may be “difficultly worded,” or off base, to try to keep the test as fair as possible.

Step 5: Complete an In-Person Flight Review

Once you pass your Small Advanced RPAS Exam, you will not see that the little box for “Advanced Pilot Certificate” is checked in your Drone Management Portal profile. This is because there is still one step left… a practical assessment of your operational planning and flying skills, called a Flight Review.

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Flight Reviews must be conducted by an authorized Flight Reviewer, Transport Canada-approved drone pilots who are associated with a self-declared drone flight school. The FR will assess your ability to operate your drone safely.

The whole concept of the Flight Review is to ensure that the pilot is competent… not that they can just fly a drone around in a circle, but that they can safely and effectively plan and execute an RPAS operation as per the regulations outlined in Part IX of the Canadian Aviation Regulations.

Check out our Flight Review Guide to see everything that is required to successfully complete your Flight Review. M3 Aerial has flight reviewers located in Vancouver, Grande Prairie, Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, Brandon, Winnipeg, Toronto, and Moncton.

Within 24 hours of your flight review, the flight reviewer will submit your results online and you will receive an email confirmation with a link to view your results. You will need to keep your knowledge up to date. If you let your knowledge level lapse for more than 2 years, Transport Canada may invalidate your results.

Once you pass the Flight Review, you can apply for a Pilot Certificate - Advanced Operations. If you fail the Flight Review, you may schedule another review the next day. There is no limit to the number of times you can retake a flight review, but you may need to pay a fee each time.

Step 6: Start Marketing Your Talent

If you’ve followed each of the steps outlined in this guide… you’re probably a trained and certified drone pilot now! You’ve probably got a good RPAS platform that you can use to service clients… but we just wanted to pass on the value of adequately marketing your talents!

We recommend using Social Media to your advantage! Create accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube (and Vimeo), and start getting your content out to the masses! People will see it and find you!

Good luck!

If you have any questions about this blog post, please Contact Us, or fill out the form below! Thanks for reading!


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About the Author:

Who wrote this?

Matthew Johnson

Who is Matthew Johnson?

Matthew Johnson is the President and CEO of M3 Aerial Productions Inc.. He has been writing about the drone industry, training, sales and aerial services (mapping, photography, film, etc.), as well as guest blogging since 2015. He had the privilege of serving Canada in the Canadian Armed Forces for 10 years, and taught high school mathematics for 5 years before taking the helm at M3 Aerial Productions.

In 2018, Matthew was named one of the Top 50 Drone Visionaries by the Commercial UAV News, and has spoken at events across Canada, and around the world, including Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

What is M3 Aerial Productions?

M3 Aerial is a UAV / RPAS training, services, and retail sales vendor based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Since 2017, Matthew has personally trained hundreds of drone operators (UAV / RPAS pilots) across Canada, the United States, and Mexico; and has completed hundreds of operations over nearly 1000 flights.

UAV / RPAS Ground School training courses are offered all across Canada, and may be coming to a city/town near you very soon! Check out when our next courses are running here!

What do other people think of M3 Aerial Productions?

We’re glad you asked! Check out some of the Testimonials we have received from our clientele over the last little while! We are proud of our reputation in the industry, and stand by the quality of training that we provide!

If you have any other questions, please let us know! Send us an email at info@m3aerial.com or visit our Contact Us section!

Matthew Johnson

I am a professional educator, serving member of the Canadian Armed Forces, UAV pilot, and owner of M3 Aerial Productions.

I am pleased to provide the community with amazing images they have never seen before, of their homes, farms, cottages, and more.