Preparing for the Transport Canada Pilot Certificate Small Remotely Piloted System (RPAS), Visual line-of-sight (VLOS).
With the publication of the Part IX to the Canadian Aviation Regulations in the Canada Gazette, a pilot certificate for Small Remotely Piloted System(RPAS), Visual line-of-sight(VLOS) endorsed for ‘advanced’ operations will be needed by June 1, 2019, in order to operate in controlled airspace, near airports and heliports, and to operate near people. Transport Canada has already opened up the drone portal system for the administering of the exams, and self-declared training organizations are revising curriculum in order prepare students for the online exam. In addition to the online examination, the RPAS pilot will need to undertake a flight review with a designated flight reviewer, but this article will only focus on preparation for the advanced online exam.
There has never been a shortage of weekend courses to prepare a student for flying a drone in Canada. While all training is good, this ‘drink from the fire hose’ approach is not the best method for long term retention of knowledge.
The knowledge requirements for the ‘basic’ exam are much lower than the ‘advanced’ exam, and the ‘basic’ exam requires only a 65% grade to be assessed as successful. The advanced permit has a much higher pass requirement (80%), and covers a much broader spectrum of knowledge. There is much higher risk involved in operating a drone in ‘advanced’ operations, and Transport Canada wants to ensure there is a common baseline of knowledge for both RPAS and traditional pilots operating in close proximity to each other.
For pilots seeking a ‘basic’ endorsement, a weekend course along with sufficient self-study may prove adequate preparation for the ‘basic’ level exam. For RPAS pilots seeking the ‘advanced’ endorsement, Canfly Drones recommends more than a basic weekend course. Enrolling in a private pilot ground school at a traditional flight school will best prepare an RPAS student for ‘advanced’ operations for multiple reasons:
• There is plenty of content overlap between the knowledge requirements of a private pilot ground school, and the knowledge an advanced RPAS pilot requires, such as meteorology, airspace, air law, theory of flight, and human factors.
• Schools typically run 1-2 classes per week, at each around 2-3 hours. The breaks in between classes allows for the student to review content, and prepare for the next classroom session, allowing for higher retention.
• By participating in a structured environment with traditional pilots, the RPAS student will have the opportunity to gain insight into a bigger picture of aviation, better preparing the RPAS pilot to co-exist in shared airspace.
• Private pilot ground schools can be upwards of 70-80 hours of classroom time, taught by Transport Canada rated flight instructors. Transport Canada is currently recommending a a ground school for RPAS pilots should be at least 40 hours to sufficiently cover the content matter.
• Private pilot ground schools may be of a comparable cost to a weekend ‘fire hose’ drone ground school.
For RPAS pilots that have held previous SFOCs, previously attended drone ground schools, and have a need for ‘advanced’ RPAS privileges, Canfly Drones does not recommend writing the advanced exam ‘cold’. Statistics are not available (yet) for number of fails on the advanced exam, but are suspected to be substantial.
For those still insisting on preparing for the ‘self-study’ route, here’s a list of study material on which the exams are based on;
• TP 15263 – Knowledge requirements for Pilots of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems 250g up to and including 25 kg, Operating within Visual Line-of-Sight. This manual should form the foundation of a study strategy. It provides a thorough list of topics an RPAS pilot should be familiar with. Think of it as a checklist of the topics to study in the following references.
• From the Ground Up (Aviation Publishers Co. Ltd). This has been the standard aviation training manual since long before I started in aviation. It’s the first book an aspiring RPAS pilot should acquire.
• TP 12863 Human Factors for Aviation – Basic Handbook. There maybe a lot of automation in drones, but those drones are still piloted by a human. We human drone pilots are susceptible to the same human factors that influence traditional pilots, and a better understanding of ourselves can contribute to overcoming many psychological and physical obstacles present in day to day operations. This book will be a little more difficult to acquire.
• Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems Safety Assurance. This is the draft Advisory Circular for manufacturer guidance on developing RPAS that will be suitable for operations in the advanced category.
• TP 14371E Transport Canada Aeronautical Information Manual. The most comprehensive reference for the aviation system in Canada. Of particular interest to the RPAS pilot are the COM-Communications Section 1.0 relating to voice communications, COM-Communications Section 8.0 transponder operation, the MET-Meteorology section, and the RAC – Rules of the air and air traffic services section, pertaining to visual/VFR rules.
• VFR Phraseology. NavCanada has published a brief guide to help brush up on radio work. While it focuses on traditional aviation, there is lots the RPAS student can gain from.
• Aviation Weather Website User’s Guide. NavCanada publishes a user guide to go along with their Aviation Weather Website (AWWS). There is lots of good information to help decipher weather products.
• Part IX Canadian Aviation Regulations. Here the student can find the actual CARs regulations that apply to RPAS.
Once the knowledge is covered, an ‘advanced’ RPAS candidate should consider writing the ‘basic’ exam. The candidate will still be able to write the ‘advanced’ exam at a later time, and the ‘basic’ exam can be used as a good measuring stick of readiness for the next level.