We have received a lot of questions lately about flying a drone in Canadian National Parks such as Banff National Park, Jasper, Yoho, etc.  There’s certainly no shortage of conflicting information and footage on Youtube and Vimeo of stunning landscapes taken in popular areas of the Parks, enticing other drone enthusiasts to go out and capture their own spectacular shots.

Aviation in the National Parks of Canada are governed by the National Parks Air Access Regulations section of the National Parks Act.  These regulations restrict aircraft from taking off or landing in the parks unless permission has been received from the Parks Superintendant.  These regulations are in place to help preserve and protect the parks environment and minimize disturbance to the natural habitat.

“I’m only flying a drone, not an airplane or a helicopter!”.  In case you were wondering what is considered the definition of an “aircraft”, this sums it up fairly definitively:

aircraft means

  • (a) until the day on which paragraph (b) comes into force, any machine capable of deriving support in the atmosphere from reactions of the air, and includes a rocket;

  • (b) [Repealed before coming into force, 2008, c. 20, s. 3] (aéronef)

 

So unfortunately yes, in the eyes of the law your drone is considered an aircraft.  Which brings us to the aircraft access restriction from the National Parks Air Access Regulations of the National Parks Act.

 

Aircraft Access

  • (1) Subject to section 5, it is prohibited for a person to conduct a take-off or landing of an aircraft in a park, other than in a park set out in column I of the schedule at a take-off and landing location set out in column II.

  • (2) It is prohibited for a person to conduct a take-off or landing of an aircraft in a park set out in any of items 1 to 9, 11 or 12, column I, of the schedule unless that person is the holder of a permit.

  • (3) It is prohibited for a person to conduct a take-off or landing of an aircraft in the park set out in item 13, column I, of the schedule, other than

    • (a) for non-commercial recreational purposes if the person is the holder of a permit; or

    • (b) to land in the case of a diversion or other emergency situation.

  • (4) It is prohibited for a person to conduct a take-off or landing of an aircraft in the park set out in item 14, column I, of the schedule, other than to land in the case of a diversion or other emergency situation.

  • (5) In the case of a landing referred to in paragraph (3)(b) or subsection (4), the person must

    • (a) notify the superintendent as soon as feasible after landing of

      • (i) the fact that they have landed at a take-off and landing location set out in item 13 or 14, column II, of the schedule, as the case may be, and

      • (ii) the nature of the diversion or other emergency situation; and

    • (b) obtain the superintendent’s authorization before take-off.

  • SOR/2004-299, s. 4;
  • SOR/2013-10, s. 3.

 

“Ah ha!  Well I will just fly into the park from the park boundary!”.  This was one of the more creative responses we’ve had to emails on the subject. But again, there is more information in the AIM (Aeronautical Information Manual) under RAC 1.14.15 regarding the overflight of National Parks.

 

1.14.5 – National, Provincial and Municipal Parks, Reserves and Refuges

To preserve the natural environment of parks, reserves and refuges and to minimize the disturbance to the natural habitat, overflights should not be conducted below 2 000 feet AGL.

The landing or takeoff of aircraft in the national parks and national park reserves may take place at prescribed locations.

To assist pilots in observing this, boundaries are depicted on the affected charts. The following is taken from the National Parks Aircraft Access Regulations (98-01-29):

(1) Subject to subsection (2) and Section 5 no person shall take off or land an aircraft in a park except in a park set out in column I of an item of the schedule, at a take-off and landing location set out in column II of that item.

(2) No person shall take off or land an aircraft in a park set out in column I of any of items 1 to 6 of the schedule unless that person holds a permit.

So I guess technically if you had an SFOC (Special Flight Operating Certificate) in place allowing you to fly your drone up to 2000ft, you could takeoff vertically to 2000ft at the park boundary and then fly over the park.  I have yet to see how long UAV batteries last flying from the ground up to this altitude and back, but I’m guessing you wouldn’t have a long flight over the park!

The better course of action would be to apply to the Parks Superintendent for a permit allowing you to fly in the park legally, or simply leave your drone at home.

 

Resources:

Canada’s National Parks Act
National Parks Air Access Regulations
Aeronautical Information Manual

In the news:

CBC News – Drones banned in national parks, with exceptions