Can You Fly
Your Drone Out
of Sight in Canada?

Last edited on January 25th 2023


Beyond visual line-of-sight, or BVLOS drone operations involve flying a drone beyond the operator's visual range. Today, these operations often require expensive, specialized technology to maintain control and ensure safety. BVLOS operations offer potential benefits such as improved access to remote locations and increased efficiency, but also present unique challenges.

One solution that could catapult Canadian BVLOS drone operations into the 21st century would be to require ADS-B on all manned aircraft.

Beyond visual line-of-sight operations are extremely limited in Canada. Transport Canada requires a concept of operations (CONOPS), a specific operational risk assessment (SORA), along with a detailed flight operations manual (FOM) as a part of a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC-RPAS) application.

The current BVLOS regulations imposed by Transport Canada dramatically limit applications that can ease challenges caused by Canada's vast geography. BVLOS drone operations have the potential to reduce carbon emissions, improve safety, and increase efficiency in a wide range of industries.

One solution that could potentially catapult Canadian BVLOS drone operations into the 21st century would be to require ADS-B transmitters on all manned aircraft. This is a relatively inexpensive piece of technology that would allow everyone to easily see the position, change in position, and speed of every manned aircraft in Canada.

Exploring the possibilities of beyond visual line-of-sight drone operations in Canada

Flying beyond visual line-of-sight has the potential to bring a number of benefits for a variety of applications. One major benefit is the ability to cover vast distances and reach remote locations that may be difficult or impossible to access by other means. This can be particularly useful for tasks such as healthcare supplies delivery, power line inspections, railway inspections, and pipeline patrol, where the ability to reach remote areas is essential.

In the electricity distribution industry, electric grid operators are required to inspect their infrastructure to check for damage and monitor deterioration. This can be a hazardous task, as helicopters are flown at low altitude to perform long-range inspections. By using drones to perform these inspections instead of manned aircraft, there is a potential to reduce the risk of fatal accidents.

In certain parts of Canada, access to medical supplies can be challenging due to the remote location of certain communities and unforgiving terrain. By using BVLOS drones to deliver medical supplies, it is possible to reach these locations far more quickly than traditional transportation methods. Medical supply delivery using BVLOS drone operations is proving to be an invaluable application that is continuing to save lives in emergency situations, where timely delivery of medical supplies is critical. However the strict limitations imposed on BVLOS drone operations continue to delay the full benefits that could be realized from rapid medical supplies deliveries in Canada.

In addition to improving safety and efficiency, BVLOS operations also have the potential to reduce carbon emissions. By using drones to perform tasks that would traditionally require the use of vehicles with internal combustion engines, the associated carbon emissions are reduced. In addition, the use of drones for BVLOS operations can often be more cost-effective than traditional methods, making it a potentially attractive option for businesses and organizations looking to reduce their carbon footprint.

The importance of maintaining visual line of sight while flying drones in Canada

Without a special flight operations certificate (SFOC), maintaining visual line-of-sight (VLOS) while flying drones is mandatory in Canada, as it is a critical safety measure that helps to prevent accidents and allows the operator to maintain control of the drone. According to Transport Canada, VLOS means "unaided visual contact at all times with a remotely piloted aircraft that is sufficient to be able to maintain control of the aircraft, know its location, and be able to scan the airspace in which it is operating in order to perform the detect and avoid functions in respect of other aircraft or objects."

One of the biggest safety hazzards, when it comes to drone operations, is the potential for a mid-air collision with manned aircraft. Maintaining VLOS allows the drone operator to constantly monitor the drone's location and the surrounding airspace, which is essential for detecting and avoiding other aircraft. By maintaining VLOS, drone operators can help to prevent accidents and ensure the safety of Canadian airspace.

How far can you fly a drone in Canada?

The distance you can fly your drone in Canada depends on your ability to maintain visual line-of-sight (VLOS) with your drone. VLOS is a critical safety measure that helps you control your drone and avoid collisions. You must also fly your drone below 122 metres (400 feet) in the air and away from restricted areas such as airports and emergency sites. These rules apply to drones that weigh 250 grams (g) up to and including 25 kilograms (kg) and require a drone pilot certificate and a registered drone.

Navigating the beyond visual line of sight regulations for drones in Canada

First and foremost you will need patience. Building your SFOC application will take time; then you'll need to wait about six weeks for Transport Canada to review your application. To get one, you will need to:

  • Read and understand Advisory Circular 903-001 - RPAS Operational Risk Assessment.
  • Request the BVLOS SFOC Checklist from Transport Canada.
  • Determine the Ground Risk Class (GRC) for your operation.
  • Determine the Air Risk Class (ARC) for your operation.
  • Determine the Safety Assurance and Integrity Level (SAIL) for your operation based on your GRC & ARC.
  • Complete a Specific Operational Risk Assessment (SORA) for your operation, outlined in AC 903-001.
  • Submit your SFOC-RPAS Application, SORA, flight operations manual, and any other supporting materials to Transport Canada

If you feel stuck and need help with your BVLOS SFOC application, FlightPhoto offers consulting services to help give you the best possible chance of receiving an approval from Transport Canada. Feel free to reach out using the contact information at the bottom of this page.

Give Yourself Lots of Time

It is recommended to submit your application for an SFOC-RPAS well before your planned operations to allow enough time for processing. It may take Transport Canada up to 30 business days to review and issue an SFOC-RPAS for low-risk operations and up to 60 business days for complex operations. While BVLOS operations have the potential to elevate safety and efficiency across a range of industries, they also face unique challenges. One solution that could allow for more flexible BVLOS regulations in Canada would be to require ADS-B transmitters on all manned aircraft, allowing for better tracking of all aircraft in the country.

View the SFOC Application Form