I just got my RPAS pilot certification in advanced operations and let me tell you that the process isn’t overly complicated but, the knowledge required is extensive and the costs associated can quickly get out of hand. I am writing this blog hoping to help anyone get through the process successfully at a low cost. There are two components to getting the license- the Transport Canada (TC) small advanced exam and a flight review. You will need to study for the exam and find a TC accredited flight reviewer. I gave myself 4 weeks to go through the process and wanted to spend the least amount of money possible studying for the exam. Disclaimer: I am not affiliated in any form to the apps and services offered in this blog. I just want to share how I got my license at a low cost.
TC Small Advanced Exam – $120 study material + $10 test.
The online exam is 60 minutes and consists of 50 questions. The curriculum is very difficult and extensive. A majority if the material pertains to airplane & helicopter pilots therefore, it is not relevant to drone operators. For this reason, you will need some type of study material as you won’t have time to search for every answer on the test.
I first looked into drone schools and quickly discovered that it is a very lucrative business. There are a lot of package options and some can quickly cost over $1000 for just the study material. I decided to research apps and self-study guides instead. I settled on an IOS app called Flight Ready. The cost is $120 cdn for the basic and advanced courses, offering over 15 hours of study material, 5 simulated Transport Canada exams, and over 550 study questions. The app is constantly updated and can be used on your phone while being offline. I ended up with a very solid base knowledge after spending 20 hours on the app. I highly recommend this app instead of another expensive online course (covers 80% of the TC test).
The exam is hard- I was prepared but failed the first time around. TC is well aware of the low success rate therefore, you have the option to try again 24 hours later. So don’t feel bad if you don’t succeed at first. I am not allowed to give you any specific questions but approximately 70% of them were related to RPAS regulations, airfoils, aerodynamics of wings, motors, airspace & air communication, weather fronts, and thunderstorms. The other ~30% seemed quite random.
Here are some tips for the exam:
- Don’t waste any time on the questions you don’t know. You can come back to them at any time during the exam, so quickly pass to the next one. I ran out of time the on my first try…
- Refer to your notes. Write as many notes as you can while studying and know where to look to find answers. It will be super useful once you go back on those hard questions.
- Have the regulation page open in your browser. It is another useful reference tool.
The Flight Review – $200 Flight Review + $25 License.
You will need to do your research to find a flight reviewer near you. There are not a whole lot of options out there and many charge a minimum of $200. This test is relevant to your drone operation and will take about 1 hour. I suggest Jason at BCUAV for a flight review on Vancouver Island, BC. I had a very positive experience with Jason. He is very professional and provides the right material for you to succeed at no additional cost. Beware that some drone schools and flight reviewers will ask you to take a preparation course and a radio course which cost a pretty penny, but they are not necessary. Of course feel free to take them if you want but, know that you won’t gain much more info than what I am about to share with you.
I suggest investing in the Drone Pilot app – $50. This app will help you plan & pass your review and will be useful for future flights. The app hs a lot to offer such as flight plans, procedure lists, airspace, NOTAM, and more. It is customizable and constantly upgrading into better versions.
What You Need To Know For The Flight Review
- Be a competent drone operator. Go out with your drone and practice flying it doing square patterns and figure eights both facing you and way. Practice your manual take off and landing.
- Know your drone. Read the manual and figure out the max flight time, max speed, max altitude, max range, return to home RTH and/or any type of fail safe functions, and any other limitations.
- Write operation procedures for fly away, lost link, incident and accident situations.
- Know the emergency numbers. The main one to know is the aviation emergency number 1-877-992-6853.
- Write a flight plan. Look at the nearest air space, find their classes, their working frequencies and emergency numbers. Look at the NOTAM and write down any pertinent information. Check the weather forecast for you flight time and make plans accordingly. Scout the location online before and note any hazards.
- Brief your staff before you fly. Brief your visual observer and other staff involved in the mission. Lay out roles, safety procedures, and any other considerations for your flight plan.
Operation Procedure Example
Horizontal Fly Away
-First attempt to reconnect the controller to the aircraft by moving closer, re-starting the control unit, and/or re-starting your control software.
-Wait to see if the Fail Safe RTH function is activated. It is an automatic function that will get triggered after 3 seconds of losing the link with the control unit. The drone will automatically return home using the RTH function data entered. The drone will hover for 10 seconds waiting for the pilot’s instructions if the control unit re-establishes contact with thedrone. The pilot needs to immediately bring back the drone for analysis and inspection. The incident needs to be recorded as a near miss or an incident.
-Initiate the crash stop procedure if there is no immediate risk or danger. Stopping the motor in air will require both control unit sticks to be pushed to the bottom inner or outer corners and held. Another way to initiate this function is to push the left stick down and hold. Make sure to warn visual observers and bystanders.
-Call the aviation emergency number 1-877-992-6853 if there is any threat to aviation or public safety.
-Determine or estimate the drone altitude, direction, heading, speed and range. The Mavic Air has a maximum battery life when flying of 21 minutes. The maximum speed is 8 m/s (28.8 km/h or15.5 knots) in P mode and 19 m/s (68.4 km/h or 36.9 knots) in S mode. The estimated maximum distance with a full battery is 9.6 km (5.18 nautical miles) in P mode and 22.8 km (12.3 nautical miles) in S mode.
-Call aerodromes if there is a risk to fly in restricted air space. Have at the ready your name, contact info, description of aircraft, your distance from the aerodrome, the direction and heading of the drone, estimated maximum range left, speed, and altitude.
-Retrieve the drone for analysis and inspection. Write an incident report and TC document or near miss report.
All in all, it took me 3 weeks to study for and pass the exam (two attempts). My total cost was $415 all in. Hopefully the information in this blog will help you succeed as well!