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The area around a wildfire is usually a hub of aviation activity, where fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft are used to suppress the fire or to protect values. The airspace around a wildfire is not the place for sightseeing aircraft. Aircraft flying into this area do so at considerable risk.
In many cases, small wildfires or fires with little smoke can be the centre of intense aviation activity.
Air tankers, helicopters and float planes working the fire can be found anywhere in the area, travelling to and from the fire or picking up water from lakes and rivers. Often these aircraft are hidden by smoke. Besides contributing to the risk of mid-air collision, the presence of unauthorized aircraft can seriously disrupt the work of the fire suppression crews.
Pilots are reminded to check Notice to Airmen (NOTAMs) before flying during the wildfire season.
Under Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs), the existence of a wildfire invokes automatic airspace restrictions, regardless of the presence or absence of suppression aircraft.
“Caution: suppression aircraft may be circling above the restricted airspace.”
Section 601.15 of CARs stipulates that no unauthorized person is able to operate an aircraft over a forest fire area, or over any area that is located within five nautical miles of one, at an altitude of less than 3,000 feet above ground level. A NOTAM does not need to be issued for an airspace restriction to be in effect.
As outlined in section 601.16 of CARs, Transport Canada may issue a NOTAM to further expand or restrict the airspace around a wildfire. The NOTAM is generated to ensure fire suppression air traffic is isolated from all other air traffic for the safety of all involved.
Pilots of unmanned aircraft (regardless of weight, size or purpose) have a legal responsibility to operate safely and in compliance with the Canadian Aviation Regulations as well as with the Criminal Code of Canada and all relevant provincial, territorial and municipal laws. They must be aware of the location of controlled and restricted airspace. If they have not obtained authorization to enter, they must stay out to ensure that normal and emergency manned flights can be conducted safely and without interference.
Pilots flying unmanned aircraft for work or research must do so in accordance with the Aeronautics Act and Canadian Aviation Regulations and where applicable, pursuant to a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) or under a Regulatory Exemption and must always comply with the conditions contained in the certificate or exemption, the Act or the regulations.
Pilots flying model aircraft must operate in a manner that is not hazardous to aviation safety. Transport Canada considers that operating a model aircraft in airspace that is restricted for the purpose of fire fighting compromises aviation safety.
If you see someone flying an unmanned aircraft near a wildland fire or in a manner believed to compromise aviation safety, report it immediately to local law enforcement. Additionally, you are encouraged to report the incident to the nearest Transport Canada Civil Aviation office or you may submit a report to firstname.lastname@example.org.