To legally fly, you’ll need a drone license in Canada. I got my pilot certificate without additional training or pilot ground school. Here’s what I used to pass Transport Canada exam and the resources I used to pass the first time.
Drone rules have changed significantly here in Canada over the past few years. Since June 2019, drone pilots require a drone pilot certificate and to register each drone they fly. It’s been said that the Canadian drone rules used to allow everyone to fly almost nowhere. Now they allow almost no one to fly almost everywhere.
Exception: The exception for these rules are drones that weight less than 250 grams. If you don’t want to bother with this process, you can pickup the DJI Mini 2 (it weighs a very specific 249 grams). Check it out on Amazon Canada (Amazon.com if you’re in the US). I own the Mini 2 and I’m loving it.
Here’s the process to pass your exam and get your drone pilot certification.
Passing the Canada Drone Exam
Last week, I took the exam for my Pilot Certificate – Basic Operations. I didn’t buy any additional training or courses. Here’s what worked for me.
To help you pass your exam, I’ve put together a full set of resources and videos. But before we get to all the specifics, I want to share how it went for me.
In the couple of weeks before taking the exam, I watched dozens of videos about drone rules and restrictions.
If you are taking the exam in Canada, be careful not to confuse Canadian rules with the US (Part 107), UK (Flyer ID), or Australia (RePL). I began watching US-based pilots explain the rules – and while there are similarities – the rules are different.
I found some great videos by Canada-based drone pilots. Many also sell study guides. If you are going to dig in, and binge these educational videos, put the coffee on. While the information is well taught, it is dry and you might find your eyes will get a little heavy. I’ll share the videos below.
After watching the pilot videos and then reading the guides by Transport Canada, I took the exam and passed on my first try. I scored 77% (which means I got 27 out of 35). To pass, you must score a minimum of 65%.
The questions I got wrong were the more general aviation questions, which I didn’t realize would be part of it. And it took me less than half of the 90 allowed minutes. I even went over all the questions a second time. The exam interface allows you to jump around and change your answers.
And while I can’t share the full copy of my pilot certificate, here’s what it looks like:
How Hard is the Canada Drone Exam?
It was pretty easy. I studied and took my time. Before taking the exam, I never flew a drone before. I hadn’t even held one in my hand. I watched a bunch of videos (links below) and read the Transport Canada rules (also linked below).
But not everyone agrees. This Reddit thread highlights how many found it unnecessarily hard.
Will you have a hard time? Probably not, especially if you study. But, the drone pilot exam is hard enough that you will fail if you aren’t prepared.
Did I Attend a Flight School?
No. Before the exam, I didn’t purchase any courses, study guides, or attend a ground school programs. And I passed the Basic Operations exam with no problem.
But before I take the Advanced Operations exam, I am going to purchase a study guide. I don’t know what the study guide / ground school offers that isn’t available through Transport Canada. But I’ll see if it helps.
Once I pass the next exam, I’ll update the post here, along with my thoughts of the study guide I used. Later in this post, you’ll find a list of some of the more popular drone exam study guides in Canada.
The experience of getting the Basic Operations Certificate was easy and pretty low stress. A few hours of reading and a few more of YouTube videos and now I can fly in Canada.
Should You Attend a Flight School?
Probably. Transport Canada recommends it. Remember, it’s about more than just fulfilling a legal requirement. It’s about getting good at this. The more we know – the better pilots we’ll be. And the more we’ll enjoy flying drones.
I’m going to attend before taking my next exam (Advanced Operations).
Do I Need to Own a Drone to Take the Exam?
No, for the Basic Operations certificate, it is purely academic. You don’t need to have any practical experience with a drone. You can study and pass.
But for the Advanced Operations certificate, you’ll need a drone to complete the certification. You can take the exam without drone experience. But you’ll need practical experience before you can pass the Flight Review. And you’ll need to own a drone for this step – you will fly your own unit during the Flight Review.
Once you get the Basic Operations Certificate, you are legally allowed to begin flying your new drone. This gives you a chance to practice and get a feel for the controls before taking the Flight Review component of the Advanced Operations certification.
Drone Exam Knowledge Requirements
Here are the specific requirements for flying a drone (RPAS, Remotely Piloted Aircraft System) from 250g to 25 kg. And operating with Visual Line of Sight (VLOS)
- Section 1: Air law, air traffic rules and procedures
- Section 2: RPAS airframes, power plants, propulsion and systems
- Section 3: Human factors
- Section 4: Meteorology
- Section 5: Navigation
- Section 6: Flight operations
- Section 7: Theory of flight
- Section 8: Radiotelephony
You might be surprised when you take the exam, to find general aviation questions. Some questions might not seem to relate to piloting drones. Transport Canada has made it clear that they want drone pilots to understand more than just the basic rules.
They expect drone pilots to comprehend broader topics things like physical properties of the earth’s atmosphere, diurnal effects, and characteristics of unstable air.
Recommended Study Material: Canada’s Drone Exam
Transport Canada publications, including the following, may be purchased from retailers, or at the following website.
- Human Factors for Aviation – Basic Handbook (TP 12863), and Advanced Handbook (TP 12864)
- Transport Canada Aeronautical Information Manual (TC AIM) (TP14371)
The Study Guide for the Radiotelephone Restricted Operator Certificate – Aeronautical (RIC-21) is available free of charge from district offices of Industry Canada – Examinations and Radio Licensing.
Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs) are available here.
NAV CANADA publications, including the following, may be purchased from retailers, or at the following site:
- VFR Navigation Charts (VNC)/VFR Terminal Area Charts (VTA)
- Canada Flight Supplement
The NAV CANADA VFR Phraseology guide is available for download.
Information on the Transportation of Dangerous Goods is available from Transport Canada.
Text books and other publications produced by commercial publishers can be obtained through local flying training organization, bookstores and similar sources.
3 Drone Exams: Basic, Advanced, Flight Reviewer
If you want to fly a drone over 250 grams in weight, you’ll need to be certified by Transport Canada.
There are three levels of certification.
- Basic Operations: Take a 35 question, multiple choice, online exam. Score 65% to pass. You have 90 minutes to take the exam. Subjects covered are described in Standard 921.01
- Advanced Operations: Take a 50 question, multiple choice, online exam. Score 80% to pass. You have 60 minutes to take the exam. Subjects covered are described in Standard 921.02
- Flight Reviewer: This 30 question exam (90 minutes) is for individuals who want to be certified to administer the Flight Review. This won’t be for most people. Subjects covered are described in Standard 921.03
For advanced operations, you’ll also need to pass a Flight Review.
Flight Review: Advanced Operations Certificate
The flight review is like the driving test before getting your drivers license. To be certified for Advanced Operations, you must demonstrate that you can safely operate your drone. This is important because with the Advanced Operations certificate, you’ll be allowed to fly closer to people.
Here’s what Transport Canada says about drone flight reviews.
Once I take my flight review, I’ll share my experience on this post.
What If I Fail The Exam?
For all three drone pilot exams, you can rewrite the the examination after 24 hours. The $10 fee applies for every attempt.
Resources for Transport Canada Drone Exam
Don Drones On: Video Series
Here is the video playlist I followed to pass the Basic Operations Drone Pilot Exam. The video series (by Don Drones On) has 14 videos and 8 primary modules. The video playlist is free and available on YouTube.
Don also sells a digital study guide for Basic Operations for $29.99. I didn’t use his downloadable study guide.
Don also produced a 30-video playlist for the Advanced Operations exam. I haven’t viewed this series yet, but it comes well reviewed and it’s free.
Don also sells an Advanced Operations exam study guide for $54.99.
Sugu World: Basic Operations
This basic study guide is just over 50 minutes in a single video. They also produce an advanced operations video course. And on their site, you can purchase study guides, which appear to be Powerpoint slides.
4 Courses and Schools Offering Study Guides
- Unmanned: Textbooks for RPAS Studies, 2nd Edition. This print book covers Transport Canada’s rules that are covered in the exams for certification. It includes a practice exam of 100+ questions. See current price on Amazon.ca
- Candrone: $200. They offer a Drone Pilot Ground School. This is covers both Basic and Advanced levels. Expect to spend about 8 hours on this course.
- Canadian Drone Institute: $90 Basic / $290 Advanced. They offer a drone course for each level. They suggest spending 20+ hours of study time for the Basic exam and 30+ hours for the advanced exam. It appears that their Advanced course includes the Flight Review. According to their site, they have Flight Reviewers in Nova Scotia (Adrian Fish), New Brunswick (Victor Sparks), Ontario (Mark Cohen). Despite a frustrating site UX, it appears that they know what they’re doing.
- Dr Drone: $325. RPAS Ground School Prep. This online course will prepare you for your basic and advanced exams.
What Drone Am I Getting?
I want a capable drone with an exceptional camera. During my research, I had settled on the DJI Mavic 2 Pro, which is now almost 3 years old. And as I researched, I learned that the DJI Mavic 3 is soon to be released, possibly as soon as Q3 of this year.
So I decided to wait for the release of the newest model. The Mavic 2 Pro was released in August 2018 – so an August release of the Mavic 3 might make sense.
In the meantime, I bought the DJI Mini 2. It was released last fall and is decent in both flight and videography. I plan to develop my skills and be ready for the new Mavic 3 when it is released. I also ordered some ND filters which should be here later this week.
Because drones are going to become a central part of our business, we wanted two. So both Dena and I can both fly, and to have a spare when we’re on assignment.
Hungry for more? Check out our Drone Pilot Glossary.
More reading: Guide to GoPro Drones
How are your preparations coming for the Canadian drone exam? Which level are you working on? I would love to hear your experience – and the resources that you’re using.
Bryan Haines is co-founder and blogger on ClickLikeThis. We cover action cameras and outdoor photography with a focus on GoPro cameras. He is a travel blogger at Storyteller.Travel and co-founder of Storyteller Media, a company he started with his wife, Dena.