Drones are playing an increasingly important role in multiple industries in Canada, and this trend is likely to continue. Many companies that are not ready to implement their own drone program turn to third party drone service providers (DSPs). When deciding which DSP to trust with your projects, there are some fundamental things to consider. In this blog post I’ll discus my top 5 essentials to consider when shopping for a drone service provider.

1) Transport Canada Certification

In most cases, if you are hiring someone (internally or externally) to operate a drone for you or your company, then your drone pilot must have either a Basic or Advanced operations certificate for drone operations. A pilot can work for pay with either of those certificates, however the Basic qualification is more limiting. There are two exceptions to the requirement for a Basic or Advanced operations certificate and they are both based on the weight of the drone. If you are operating a drone that weighs less than 250 grams, or more than 25 kilograms, then the Advanced and Basic certification rules do not apply to you.

Basic Operations Certificate:

If you meet all of the following conditions, then you are conducting basic operations:

  1. Flying your drone in uncontrolled airspace.
  2. Flying your drone more than 30 meters (or 100 feet) horizontally of bystanders.
  3. Never fly your drone over bystanders. This excludes the pilot and crew.

Advanced Operations Certificate

If you meet any single one of the following conditions, then you are conducting advanced operations:

  1. When flying your drone in controlled airspace.
  2. Flying over bystanders.
  3. Flying within 30 meters (or 100 feet) horizontally of bystanders.
A sample copy of an Advanced Pilot Certificate for drone operations and is required for drone service providers.
Sample Pilot Certificate

Most drones that are used for commercial purposes are between 250 grams and 25 kilograms. Be aware that if you hire a person to conduct drone flights for you, and if their drone weighs between 250 grams and 25 kilograms, you should be sure they have the appropriate certificate. If they do not have the appropriate certificate, then they are doing business illegally, and this is a liability for you. Professional DSPs should be willing to provide you with a copy of their credentials, including their Basic or Advanced certificate, upon request.

2) Drone registration

In Canada, when conducting basic and advanced drone operations, your are legally required to register your drone and record the registration mark on your drone. One of the primary reasons that drones must be registered is for traceability. If a drone is involved in an incident or accident, it is important to be able to identify the operator of the drone so that a thorough investigation into causal factors can be conducted. When choosing a DSP, ensure that their drone is registered and that the registration is displayed on the drone. Properly registering a drone is legal requirement, and is quite simply a sign of professionalism.

3) liability Insurance

Image of a avatar holding a pen and paper, representing an insurance agent. Professional drone service providers should have liability insurance to limit your exposure to risk.

If you contract a DSP to conduct a flight, it is important to make sure they have appropriate liability insurance. If there is an incident and someone gets hurt, or property is damaged, it is important that you have a means of recovering your losses. Drones are considered aircraft, and as such, homeowner’s insurance typically doesn’t cover drone operators. Ensure that your drone service provider has aviation liability insurance!

4) Familiarity with the regulations

The Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs) constitute the primary document that governs the use of drones in Canada. To be sure, there are other local and federal ordinances that also dictate what is and isn’t allowable, but the CARs are the primary governing document. It is very important that your drone service provider has a very good understanding of the regulations, as this can have a significant impact on the safety of your operation in a couple of important ways.

First of all, when improperly used, drones can pose a danger to aviation safety. Therefore, it is crucial that your drone operator is familiar with the regulations and airspace that they are operating in. Familiarity with the rules improves general situational awareness of the risks and threats to the operation. Additionally, most liability insurance policies have clauses that state that drone operations must be compliant with the regulations. Therefore, if your pilot does not comply with the regulations and there is an incident, then the drone operators liability insurance may not cover them. This obviously leaves the drone operator exposed, and this may increase your exposure to risk as well. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to determine how familiar your DSP is with the regulations. As a general rule, I suggest asking what type of aviation experience they have, and go with the company that can demonstrate a high level of aviation experience.

5) Clear and effective communication

The last “must have” for drone service providers is effective communication skills. Although this may seem obvious, good communication skills are essential. When choosing a drone operator, ensuring that they understand your job request will help save you time and money. For that reason, confirm that they have taken the time to understand your objectives and can explain to you how they plan to achieve your goals. They should also be able to provide you with a timeline of when they will fly your job and when you can expect your finished product. For bonus points, look for a drone service provider that provides you with proof of the credentials mentioned in this blog post without being asked for them.

An illustration of two people communicating through tin cans connected by string, implying ineffective communication. A good drone service provider should have good communication skills.

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