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News & Notes

Which Country Has Friendlier Recreational Drone Rules: Canada or the U.S.?

Flying near animals or buildings? Might want to check your country's regulations

March 21, 2017

Last week, Canada released a new set of rules for recreational drone users, which brought forth some strong feelings from the country’s drone community.

This poor guy believes he can basically no longer operate his DJI Phantom 4. While he’s sensationalizing a bit, Canada’s new laws are indeed strict on hobbyists. Then we have this guy, who now owns a boat anchor …
This lady brings up a good point. My guess is that squirrels do count — even though they’re small, they are indeed animals.

As more people fly drones to get the oh-so awesome perspective that the technology provides, it shouldn’t be a surprise that countries are updating or creating recreational drone rules. Let’s be real. Drone regulations are necessary, no matter your personal opinions on the scope of the rules.

So this begs the question: Which country has friendlier recreational drone rules, Canada or the U.S.?
Canada

Drones weighing between 250 grams ( .55 pounds) and 35 kilograms (77 pounds) can fly without special permission from Transport Canada. However, the owners of drones in this weight class must clearly mark their name, address, and phone number on the aircraft and follow these basic safety rules:
  • Only fly up to 90 meters (about 300 feet)
  • Keep drone within visual line-of-sight (VLOS)
  • Stay within 500 meters (1,640 feet) of the drone
  • No flying:
    • Closer than 75 meters (246 feet) from buildings, vehicles, vessels, animals, people/crowds, etc.
    • Closer than 9 kilometers (5.5 miles) from anywhere aircraft take-off/land and forest fires
    • Within controlled or restricted airspace
    • At night or in clouds
    • Where a drone could interfere with police or first responders
Those caught disregarding these rules could face fines up to $3,000 Canadian.

U.S.

All UAS weighing between .55 and 55 pounds must be registered under the name of their operator, and the owner’s registration number must be legibly written on the drone. While drone hobbyists don’t need permission from the FAA to fly, they must always fly safely and follow these safety guidelines:
  • Only fly up to 400 feet
  • Keep drone within VLOS
  • Must be aware of airspace requirements
  • Always yield to manned aircraft
  • Follow community-based guidelines (like the AMA if you’re flying at one of its fields)
  • No flying:
    • Within 5 miles of an airport, unless you call and notify them
    • Over groups of people
    • Over stadiums or sporting events
    • Near emergency response efforts
    • While under the influence
Those who don’t register their small UAS could face civil penalties up to $27,500 and criminal penalties up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment. Those caught disregarding operational rules could also face fines, and according to the FAA’s website, fines “remain an option when egregious circumstances are present.”
The verdict

While the U.S. appears to have more severe penalties if caught flying illegally, the FAA hasn’t fined that many drone hobbyists. Overall, it seems that those flying drones recreationally in the U.S. have a little more leeway than their neighbors to the north.

Sure, Canada doesn’t require drone hobbyists to register ― at first, many U.S. recreational drone pilots contested the registration requirement, and some like John Taylor still do ― but the U.S. doesn’t have as many specifications when it comes to distance. Just picture the U.S. as the aunt that slips you candy behind your parents’ backs and Canada as the strict, worrisome dad.

Though, there’s one regulation where strict-dad Canada seems to be a little loose: drugs and alcohol. The U.S. specifies that pilots cannot fly under the influence, while from what I read Canada does not. Perhaps Canadians would never drink and fly … or perhaps it was an oversight. No matter the reason, that’s one spot where Canada is friendlier to recreational drone pilots, for better or worse.

So there you have it: The U.S. has friendlier recreational drone rules than Canada. Will it always be this way? Who knows ― drones are a nascent technology, and the rules and regulations surrounding them are constantly being developed. So get out and fly while you can!

Note: A previous version of this said hobbyists in the U.S. needed to ask permission to fly near an airport, but they only need to notify the airport. And hey, that's a lot  more chill.

Featured image: Drew Halverson