Flight Planning for UAVs in Canada

Operations

Flight Planning for UAVs in Canada

Canadian UAV operators need to conform to the manned aviation system at every opportunity.  The is no industry standard for presentation of aviation data in ground control software (GCS) or UAV interfaces, and manufacturers are left to present information they believe is relevant. The information to present is being decided by engineers and marketing people, not necessarily experts of flight regulations in the county of intended use. Ultimately, responsibility rests with the unmanned pilot to be aware that the data being presented by the manufacturer may not be valid, accurate, or relevant. When a drone flies where it should not, regulators and enforcement will not allow blame to be deferred to the manufacturer (because the manufacturer allowed to drone to operate where it should not); the buck stops with the pilot-in-command!  There are some very good (free) tools available to unmanned pilots to assist in the mission planning and site survey phases of operations.

Airspace viewed in Google Earth

The first tool Canfly Drones fires up when conducting a site survey is Google Earth. The fact that Transport Canada refers to Google Earth in some of their documentation, or requests for coordinates of site surveys in KML or KMZ (Google Earth file format) suggests the versatility of the application. While open, the Google Earth search engine allows for search by city, latitude and longitude, or address. Occasionally, even scrolling around a general location will allow a user to find the intended site. What is missing by default are airspace definitions. This can be rectified by adding a file from here, with a caveat; the data has been parsed from the Designated Airspace Handbook, and maintained by volunteers. A proper site survey will require a cross reference of the data to current aeronautical publications for accuracy. A very thorough Google Earth set-up can even include a list of aerodromes registered from the Canada Flight Supplement, but a word of caution; be aware of where your data comes from, as it is still the operator’s responsibility to know their surroundings. Often times, in rural areas, ‘flying’ over an area in Google Earth may be the only method available to an operator to find aerodromes that are not registered in the Canada Flight Supplement.

FltPlanGo CFS on iPad

Every 56 days, a new version of the Canada Flight Supplement (CFS) is published by NavCanada in paper format, and this is the document that contains airport information for registered aerodromes in Canada. Although something can be said about holding and reading a paper book, it is more efficient to source out digital formats when able. This leads to another tool that Canfly Drones uses; FltPlan Go Electronic Flight Bag app for iPad, iPhone, Android, or Windows devices. Although the app is designed for manned aviation, UAV users can make use of the apps ability to store updated aeronautical information offline. While Flight Plan Go is a great tool for the use during the site survey phase of operations, having aeronautical information also available during flight operations is a requirement for SFOCs. Some very useful features unmanned aviation pilots can make use of are:

FltPlanGo VTA on iPad
FltPlanGo VTA on iPad
  • Canada Flight Supplement (CFS) information. This is where information regarding aerodrome owners/operators, whose permission is required when operating in the vicinity of an aerodrome. Aviation communication frequencies are also published in the CFS.

  • VFR Navigation Charts (VNC), or Sectional Charts. These are aeronautical charts that show terrain, built-up areas, airspace, aerodromes, and other data required by pilots operating under Visual Flight Rules (VFR). As the charts are geo-referenced, the app will show the device’s location on the map if GNSS/GPS information is available. (Hint: download the Terminal Area Charts (TAC) for even more detail around large cities, such as Vancouver and Toronto)

  • Notice to Airmen (NOTAMS) and aviation weather can be downloaded and cached for nearby aerodromes.

Lastly, the National Research Council Canada has published a website for UAV users. Depending on the regulations a UAV is being operated under (for example, Recreational Interim Orders vs. SFOCs), a UAV may be either prohibited from operating within certain distances of an aerodrome, or require certain procedures to be to be observed. The referenced website allows user to select a regulation, and will present radius rings around aerodromes registered in the CFS.  The website also shows low-level airspace, which is also a consideration for UAV pilots.

Marc Dubrule
Unmanned aviation consultant. Airline pilot. Aviation expert.