Flying Ultralight Airplanes in Canada

By Adam Hunt



This Chinook II is an example of
an ultralight that may be
registered "Basic" or "Advanced"
in Canada.

Photo courtesy Adam Hunt, COPA

Ultralight airplanes are the quickest growing segment of aviation in Canada!

Basic ultralights continue to grow faster than advanced ultralights added each year. The quickly growing numbers of basic ultralights is probably being driven by the growing popularity of powered parachutes and trikes. In fact ultralights are growing at a rate that is greater than any other class of aircraft, leading the increases in the number of recreational aircraft in Canada over this past year!

Why are ultralights so increasingly popular? Cost is certainly one reason. With the least expensive new two seat certified aircraft starting at well over $100,000 compared to some new two seat ultralight kits selling for well under $20,000, it isn’t hard to see that ultralights can be a lot cheaper to purchase. Operating costs can be a lot lower, too. Flying 100 hours per year on a certified aircraft like a Cessna 150 will probably cost in the region of $80 per hour. Many new two-seat ultralights can be flown for around $25 per hour. Comparing numbers like those it is easy to see that for many people ultralights don’t just provide the chance to fly more hours for the same money, they provide the only opportunity to fly affordably.

Cost isn’t the only factor. There are many ultralight pilots who could afford to fly bigger aircraft but who fly ultralights because they find them just more fun. Instead of the “car-like” comfort of most certified aircraft, many ultralights provide the adventure of flying open cockpit, flying from short, unprepared fields and flying “low and slow” over the countryside. The ultralight category covers aircraft from very slow and basic aircraft, like powered parachutes, to fast cross-country speedsters – so there is something for almost everyone in the ultralight world. Because all ultralights are “owner-maintenance” you can do your own work or hire someone to do it for you. The paperwork requirements are much simpler for ultralights, too.


Rules and Uses

CAR 602.29 and the Transport Canada Ultralight Transition Strategy currently govern ultralights. Eventually, once incorporated, these rules will all become part of the CARs and will be found in the CAR 603 series. Ultralights are only permitted to be used for private recreational flying and commercially for flight instruction, rental and towing hang gliders. Other commercial uses such as crop spraying, aerial photography, carrying freight or passengers for hire are not permitted.


Some Ultralight History

Most early 20th century pioneer aircraft, like the Canadian-built Silver Dart, would be considered “ultralights” under the current rules in Canada. But these aircraft grew up and became the modern light aircraft, military airplanes and airliners of today. Really small and ultra light aircraft were forgotten by the middle of the 20th century.

The history of modern ultralights actually started on March 15th, 1975. On that day an American pioneer did something no human had ever done before, he achieved foot-launched flight from a level surface. On that day John Moody picked up his Icarus II biplane hang glider, started the 8 hp engine, opened the throttle and ran until he lifted from the frozen surface of a lake in Wisconsin. Modern ultralights were born.

Foot launching these craft didn’t last long as wheels provided a lot more safety for take-off and landing. The early ultralights increased in weight and complexity quickly in the early 1980s. The US rules for ultralights, FAR Part 103 froze the US ultralights as very small and light aircraft, but Canadian ultralight rules have changed with time.


Basic Ultralights

Today the Canadian ultralight rules allow basic ultralights to have one or two seats, weigh up to 1200 lbs take-off weight and have a stall speed of 39 knots (45 mph) or less. Basic ultralights are not permitted to carry passengers, although they may be flown with two pilots on board or with a student and instructor. Helmets are required when flying basic ultralights. There are no specific maintenance requirements for basic ultralights, but protecting your investment and yourself means taking good care of your basic ultralight. Basic ultralights are all registered in the series starting with C-I.


Advanced Ultralights

Advanced ultralight airplanes (AULAs) started as a new category here in Canada in 1991. They are single or two seat airplanes that comply with a Light Aircraft Manufacturer’s Association of Canada (LAMAC) publication called Design Standards for Advanced Ultralight Aeroplanes. AULAs must be purchased as a kit or complete aircraft. For quality control reasons they cannot be built from plans. Changes were made to the category in 2001 and, as a result, AULAs can now weigh up to 770 lbs for single seaters and 1232 lbs for two seaters. Under the revisions to the category in 2001 powered parachutes and hang glider-based trike ultralight designs may now qualify as AULAs.

Individual AULAs get their status from a Statement of Conformity that the manufacturer issues when the plane is built. This S of C indicates that the plane conforms to the standard for the type. The S of C allows the AULA to be registered with Transport Canada as an advanced ultralight. AULAs cannot be modified without the written authority of the manufacturer and they must be maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. If an AULA is modified without permission from the manufacturer or not maintained as required then it will lose its Certificate of Registration. If this happens and the gross weight was under 1200 lbs, it may qualify to be re-registered as a basic ultralight, losing its passenger carrying status. Maintenance records are required for AULAs.

AULAs can carry a passenger, if the pilot is qualified to carry a passenger. This currently requires a Pilot Permit - Recreational or higher airplane licence. A Passenger Carrying Rating for the Pilot Permit - Ultralight Aeroplanes should become available at some point in the future. Helmets are not required to be worn in AULAs.

Starting at their inception in 1991, AULAs were registered in the C-F or C-G series, but since January 1997 they have been registered in the C-I series, like all other ultralights. There are still quite a number around that have C-F or C-G registrations.


Flying to the USA

Canadian ultralights do not have a Certificate of Airworthiness or any other flight authority. Because of this they require permission from the FAA to fly south of the border. Since July 3rd, 2000 the FAA has given blanket authority for Canadian basic and advanced ultralights to fly to the USA. All you need to do is complete and carry a copy of the FAA Special Flight Authorization and comply with its limitations while in US airspace. The authorization is valid for 180 days and is renewable.

The pilot must hold a Pilot Permit - Recreational or higher airplane licence or hold a Pilot Permit - Ultralight Aeroplanes, with instructor rating and two hours cross-country experience. Pilots who hold just a Pilot Permit - Ultralight Aeroplanes are not permitted to fly their ultralights in the USA at the present time. It is anticipated that the rules will be amended to allow holders of the Pilot Permit - Ultralight Aeroplanes with the new passenger carrying rating will be allowed to fly in the USA at some point in the future.


Flying Under FAR Part 103 in the USA

American ultralight rules are very different than Canadian ones. US ultralights are limited to one seat, 25-knot stall speed, 55-knot maximum speed, 5 gallons of fuel and 254 lbs empty weight. These “ultralight vehicles” are not required to be registered and the pilot does not need a licence. Provided the aircraft you are flying in the USA meets this Part 103 definition then it can be flown by Canadians while in the USA with no further permission required. No helmets are required under FAR Part 103.

Unregistered US ultralights are not permitted to be flown in Canada without a special authority from Transport Canada.


Ultralights and COPA

More ultralight pilots belong to COPA than any other organization in Canada. Data from the COPA membership survey conducted in July 2002 indicates that COPA represents about 75% of the active ultralight pilots in Canada.

COPA provides lots of services for ultralight fliers, starting with the most effective and affordable aviation insurance program that covers ultralights. The monthly newspaper, COPA Flight contains Canadian Ultralight News – the only monthly publication for ultralights in Canada. Three of Canada’s largest ultralight clubs are COPA Flights – Calgary, St Albert and Kingston. COPA provides many other services for ultralight pilots and owners, ranging from Life Insurance that includes ultralight flying, to fly-ins and annual cross-Canada spring safety seminars – the COPA Rust Removers!

Ultralight owners and pilots also get first class representation in Ottawa from COPA. Whenever new CARs and government ultralight policies are made COPA has a voice at the table – COPA is on all nine Transport Canada CARAC Technical Committees. COPA is also on the Nav Canada Advisory Board, representing you in matters of flight planning, weather and fees.

You’ll find COPA members wherever ultralights are flying in Canada! If you are flying ultralights in Canada you’ll want to belong to COPA – for ultralight news, COPA Flights, insurance, government representation and many other reasons.

For a lot more more information about ultralights have a look at the COPA Guide to Ultralights