Transport Canada on Jan. 9 announced new rules governing the use of small unmanned aircraft, or drones, that introduce basic and advanced categories of drone operations, both requiring owners to register their aircraft and obtain a pilot certificate.

The new rules, which become effective on June 1, apply to recreational, commercial and academic operators of drones weighing from 250 grams to 25 kg. (0.55 lb. to 55 lbs.). Operators flying outside parameters of the rules will need to apply for a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC).

“We’ve listened closely to feedback from Canadians and have updated our regulations to balance practicality and the safe use of drones,” said Transport Minister Marc Garneau. “Our new regulations will create new opportunities for Canadians by establishing a safe and predictable regulatory environment where the industry can innovate and where recreational and non-recreational drone pilots can safely access Canadian airspace.”

Broadly similar to regulations governing drone operations in the US, the rules require Canadian operators to register and mark their drones—something the FAA has required hobbyists in the US to do since December 2015—and pass an on-line “Small Basic” or “Small Advanced” exam to earn a pilot’s certificate, depending on the type of operation. Advanced operators also must pass a flight review administered by a Transport Canada-approved drone pilot.

Under its Part 107 regulation, which became effective in August 2016, the FAA requires that commercial drone operators pass an aeronautical knowledge test to earn a remote pilot certificate. Hobbyists are provided guidance.

The basic and advanced categories are based on the distance of the drone operation from bystanders and relevant airspace rules. A basic operation must take place more than 30 m (98 ft.) from bystanders in uncontrolled airspace. An advanced operation is one that is flown in controlled airspace, over bystanders or within 30 m horizontally of bystanders.

Flying a drone at an advertised event, weighing more than 25 kg or above 400 ft. above the ground requires an SFOC.

Shenzhen, China-based DJI, the leading manufacturer of small civilian drones, said it welcomed Transport Canada’s “measured” approach.

“The regulatory framework published strikes a sensible balance between protecting public safety and bringing the benefits of drone technology to Canadian businesses and the public at large,” DJI VP-policy and legal affairs Brendan Schulman said. “The vast majority of drone pilots fly safely and responsibly, and governments, aviation authorities and drone manufacturers agree we need to work together to ensure that all drone pilots know basic safety rules.”

An innovative aspect of the new regulations is a safety assured flight envelope (SAFE) system through which manufacturers will declare their models are suitable for advanced drone operations, Schulman said. “DJI will be examining the details of the SAFE system with the goal of participating in it,” he added.

Until the new rules become effective in June, drone hobbyists must continue to follow Transport Canada’s Interim Order Respecting the Use of Model Aircraft, originally released in March 2017, and operators using their drones for work or research should continue following conditions of their SFOCs, the agency said.

“Though a direct correlation cannot be made, statistics from 2017 show a decline of 8.1% in the number of reported aviation-related incidents involving drones, despite the ongoing growth of recreational drone operations,” the Canadian government stated last year in interim regulatory language.

“That being said, recreational use of drones continues to be an issue,” it added. “Canada’s first recorded collision between an aircraft and a drone occurred near Québec City Jean Lesage International Airport in October 2017. Without any regulatory framework in place for recreational drone operators, it is highly likely that such an incident could happen again, and with the potential for catastrophic consequences.”

Bill Carey,