Great day for flying…until we were told the area was off-limits

So, parts of North America have been enjoying an unbelievable spell of weather these past few days. As a result, people have been maximizing their outdoor activities – trying to soak up every last bit of sunny goodness before November returns to her grey, wet self. We, naturally, went flying. At least for a bit.

I live in Ontario, Canada. And, let me tell you, it would be hard to imagine there could have been a better place in North America the past few days. The weather has been stunning, hitting 24° C (75° F) under sunny skies. Here at DroneDJ, we’ve been taking advantage of that great weather to go shoot videos and put the new DJI Mini 2 through its paces. Yesterday, with the weather again picture-perfect, I decided to join some other pilots and try to capture some more Mini 2 footage and possibly shoot a video.

We settled on a Conservation Area, about 40 minutes outside the city.

Drone regs?

Drones are banned in provincial parks in Ontario, so one of the pilots (who is also a commercial airline pilot) decided to check the Conservation Area’s website before we got there. He searched for “drones” and came back with two hits. Both were dead links, with no abstract that gave us any further information. And so we made the collective decision that we would proceed to fly, albeit well away from others. We chose an open area space where no one should have been bothered.

And so we started to fly. We walked to the base of a cliff popular with rock climbers and put up the Mini 2 for a quick flight. There were no climbers on the rock face, and we would not have flown had there been. The last thing we’d want to do is distract a climber on a sheer surface like this!

Mini 2 photo
A photo from our relatively brief outing…

After that flight, we went back to the top of the plateau. There was a large open grassy field with no one else anywhere near. One of the friends had a cinematic FPV unit, which had fairly quiet props and was tuned to be fairly docile. He was just flying some lazy circles – no crazy acrobatics or anything. Another wanted to pop up a DJI Phantom 4 Professional (which is still such a great drone!). I was a little concerned that the P4P might be a little too noisy, perhaps annoying some other people enjoying the day. It would soon appear this hunch was right.

Conservation Officer

It wasn’t long before a white pickup truck came our way. It was clearly an official truck. And soon, a young woman in a uniform came walking toward us. I’m going to paraphrase her here:

Hey guys – I know it’s a great day and we all want to be enjoying this, but drones aren’t allowed here. The reason is that we, and the people on the ground, are concerned about privacy. They don’t know if you’re recording them from above, or really what you’re doing. So for privacy reasons, I’m going to have to ask you to stop.

Conservation Officer

She also said that “It’s really hard to find anywhere legal to fly those things.”


We had a pleasant conversation and agreed to put away the drones. I was tempted to get into a discussion – more just to let her know rather than to challenge – that the wide-angle lenses on most drones would make it very difficult to “spy” on anyone unless you’re basically flying super-close. But this didn’t seem like the right time, and it wasn’t going to change her position. She had been polite and had clearly explained the reasoning behind their rules, so we packed up.

Just as an FYI, all four of us have our Advanced RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft System) Certificates – and three of the four of us have obtained Transport Canada certification as flight reviewers. Two of the four in our group are passenger jet pilots who have forgotten more about airspace regulations than most of us will ever learn. We didn’t bother telling her any of that because, really, it would have been irrelevant.

A lesson here

I’m not going to make the argument that we should have been able to fly at that location, because we shouldn’t. If the Conservation Area has a rule, that’s the rule. And others – even if they were distant from us – deserve to enjoy the location in peace and should be free from any worries (albeit unfounded) that they might be captured in our footage.

A sun-smeared shot from the P4P. We were flying in the grassy area below…

Yes, we wanted to fly our drones yesterday. But we were in the wrong. It doesn’t matter if the Conservation Area had broken links, my Spidey Sense told me this was likely forbidden fruit. And we could have simply asked at the gate on our way in.

The point?

I have always taken rules and regs very seriously. Whether it was on The Digital Circuit website I ran a few years back, or now with DroneDJ, I’m a firm believer that if most of us follow the rules – the rules won’t get harsher. That’s why, from time to time, I’ll push out an article on regs and the importance of not setting a bad example.

While we could argue that the Conservation Area’s rules weren’t clearly posted online, we didn’t take that extra step by asking when we entered the park. (Nor, we might add, did the park have any signage around this issue).

Anyway, lesson learned. We all make mistakes – including us.

What’s important is that we learn from them. And next time, if there’s any doubt, I’ll ask.