SFOC Article Index

indexOver the past year or more we have written numerous articles on the topic of SFOCs and the commercial UAV regulations in Canada.  To help readers more easily find these articles we have put together the following index of the more popular items:

A good place to start is with the following which provide an overview of the SFOC process and what is needed to legally operate a UAV commercially in Canada:

The following articles provide templates and checklists that some of the Transport Canada regions have been using as part of their application process:

The following provide a detailed breakdown of working through the SFOC application process:

The following outline best practices that Nav Canada have been developing for some of the flight information regions:

In addition be sure to check the SFOC category of the blog for the full list of related articles – https://blog.flitelab.com/category/sfoc/ 

In addition to the free information provided in the articles listed above and throughout the blog, Flitelab also offers SFOC consulting services for a fee, contact us at info@flitelab.com for details.

UAV Exemption Changes

With the current Canadian UAV Exemptions set to expire in  December 21, 2016, Transport Canada is proposing changes as outlined below for their renewal:

For 1KG or Less:

  • 5NM from any aerodrome in the CFS/WAS (except heliports)
  • 3NM from any heliports in the CFS/WAS and all other aerodromes
  • No minimum distance from built-up areas (but not withing or over built-up areas)
  • 300′ AGL
  • Not in controlled airspace, Only Class G
  • Not in control zones
  • Not in restricted airspace (including forest fire areas)

For 1-25KG or Less:

  • 5NM from any aerodrome in the CFS/WAS (except aerodromes)
  • 3NM from any heliport in the CFS/WAS and all other aerodromes
  • 3NM from built-up areas
  • 300′ AGL
  • Not in controlled airspace, Only Class G
  • Not in control zones
  • Not in restricted airspace (including forest fire areas)

*  As per presentation at USC Conference in Edmonton

What are Complex Operations?

Since the release of the NPA for new proposed regulations back in May 2015 there seems to be ongoing confusion around the impact on the need for Compliant aircraft.  It is stated that UAVs must meet a design standard, basically equivalent to current Complaint systems, to operate in “complex operations”.

This often seems to get downplayed and implies that “complex” would be the rare edge cases and perhaps most operators would not fall into this type of work.  However this is not the case, in fact many current SFOC holding operators would no doubt have at least part of their  work deemed “complex”.

Complex Operations may entail the following, based on what has been stated as per the NPA:

  • Any flight in controlled airspace.
  • Any flight at night.
  • Any flight within a specified distance to an aerodrome (3-5NM).
  • Any flight within a specified distance of a built-up area (3-5NM).
  • Any flight over people.


So unless you are working in Class G airspace away from built-up areas, you will most likely fall into the complex category. For us at Flitelab, easily 70% of out work would fall under “complex”, making the need for compliant aircraft a major concern.

As of this article there are 8 Compliant UAVs, many of which are outside the price range of most small operators, and many do not meet the feature set required for many uses.

Based on the latest information from Transport Canada at the USC Conference just this week, the push is still on to require compliant systems.  This could basically render many systems in use now as useless unless manufacturers choose to work towards compliance which is an unknown at this stage.

We will not know the final impact until the new regulations are made public for review in early 2017, but all indications are that a major change is coming that could impact many operators.

Growing Inconsistencies with Transport Canada & UAVs

Permi_EN_FrontWe have written in the past about the challenges the Canadian UAV industry faces, one of which is the lack of consistency with how the various Transport Canada Regions handle the SFOC process and associated management of UAVs in general.

While Transport Canada is a national agency, the reality is the day to day operations are handled at regional levels and there has been a growing disconnect between how each region operates when it comes to UAVs.

Not all regions apply the Staff Instructions in the same manner, and even within the same region different inspectors can often interpret them differently.  What may be allowed for one operator may be reject for another even in the same location.

There also seem to be evolving approaches within the regions despite the fact the actual SFOC process and UAV regulations have been static for well over a year and a half.  What was accepted only a few months ago is now being rejected or tighter restrictions are being put on new applications.

For operators trying to run UAV businesses across multiple regions of the country this can be a frustrating and confusing issue.  It also can cause confusion with clients in that what might be permissible in one area is not allowed in another.

The differences in what a “typical” SFOC holds is most apparent when looking at PNR compared to other regions of the country.  PNR tends to limit max altitude to 100′ within built-up areas and near aerodromes, most other regions allow up to 400′ as the default.  As well PNR also requires a 500′ lateral distance in some areas where most others are 100′.

The 100′ distance is not always the case either, larger UAVs maybe be forced to greater distances, and there have been cases of some operators successfully being granted reduced distances of 30-50′, yet in some areas inspectors have stated they would never allow less than 100′, so again it is unclear as to what may be permitted or what the expectations and requirements are for these reductions; a lot seems to come down to luck of the draw in terms of what inspector you get reviewing your application. Considering the new FAA rules in the US, which does not require any lateral min distance, both of these are very limiting for Canadian operators.

Quebec is another region with some major differences. This seems to be the most restrictive region and also most difficult to get applications approved.  There are many reports of not being able to get Standing SFOCs for anything beyond Class G airspace where other areas will typically grant longer term certificates for controlled and uncontrolled airspace operations.

Recently we have assisted a number of clients in the Pacific Region with SFOCs, in each case Transport Canada came back requesting additional but different information on applications very similar to ones approved there months earlier and that are approved without question in most other regions.  The feedback was that some inspectors felt SFOCs had been granted too easily so they were deciding to make it tougher based on their own views of the process.

These issues extend further to agencies such as Nav Canada as well.  Each region seems to be developing their own processes for how UAVs should coordinate with ATC and when and if a NOTAM should be issued.  We have gone back and forth on this issue ourselves, having been told a NOTAM was required, then not required, then had to be issued by Transport Canada directly, and back to Transport Canada stating they didn’t feel they were necessary.  Similar issues were also brought up around the requirement for and use of a VHF radio, some areas require them in certain airspace and other areas have stated they are never to be used.

And then there is the issue of enforcement or lack there of.  Very few fines have been issued to date compared to the number of drones being operated on a daily basis.  Many “cowboy” operators simply ignore the rules as they know Transport Canada has little manpower to police the use and with the current free for all for recreational use it is near impossible to make a fine stick in most cases.  Again some regions such as Pacific and Quebec seem to issue more fines than others like PNR and Atlantic, coming down once again to what specific inspectors feel may be in or outside the box.

Running any business is tough enough when it comes to dealing with government red tape, but when there is no consistency or moving goal posts it makes the process even harder if not impossible.  As a federal agency Transport Canada needs to address these issues and ensure there is a fair and consistent application of the UAV regulations coast to coast.

We can appreciate the disruptive nature of UAVs and the added workload that they have put on the aviation regulators and managers. The guys in the field are under a lot of pressure and are not given the resources to do their job and are doing the best they can and more often than not are always willing to help.  We’ve even been told off the record how frustrated many are but their hands are tied with what they can actually do. The issue is at the top with the Minister and other bureaucrats.

These issue with these inconsistencies have been raised directly to Transport Canada and they are aware they exist and are a problem but to date there has been no movement on resolving the issue and in fact it seems to be getting worse.

At this stage all we can do as an industry is hope things improve and keep pushing for change.  Write the Minister and your MP and make your concerns known.

PNR Unmanned Air Vehicle Occurrence Reporting Form

PNR Region has created a UAV complaint form for reporting UAV issues/concerns within the region. The PDF form is linked below.

Transport Canada Prairie and Northern Region appreciates your concern and willingness to provide our staff with information to help follow up on this matter. Please take the time to fill in as much of the information below as possible and return this form via e-mail to PNRSpecialFlightOps@tc.gc.ca .

NOTE: If you observe an Occurrence that you feel is an immediate threat to public safety, call your local law enforcement authorities immediately.


5 Reasons for SFOC & Transport Canada Fine Ain’t One

sfocTo operate a commercial UAV in Canada you must have a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) from Transport Canada.  However there are more reasons to have a SFOC beyond just to satisfy the legal needs of the regulator.

Here are some reasons we feel are more important than the potential of a fine alone for applying for a SFOC:

  1. Liability Insurance
    Without an SFOC most all insurance policies are void as coverage is dependent on operating legally.  With no coverage you could be left personally liable in the event of an accident.  Losing your life savings and home might be a high price to pay in trying to save some time on paperwork to skirt the rules of use.
  2. Client Requirements
    While some operators may see the SFOC as pointless red tape, many clients now require providers to have this and associated insurance in place before they are permitted on client sites as it is a liability risk.  Clients also see it as a means to separate the good from the bad operators as currently it is the only official means to show who is approved to use a drone commercially.
  3. Professionalism
    If your running a legitimate business then doing so within the laws that govern an industry are a core component to being a professional.  Working outside the law doesn’t instill confidence or respect in customers or peers, and will make it hard to grow a long term business when it comes time for funding or outside investment and partnerships with other businesses.
  4. Risk Management
    While a lot of the SFOC application process can seem a bit pointless in regards to actually going out and flying the drone, at it’s core it is basically about risk management.  Going through the process to create an application forces you to consider processes and procedures to handle a variety of situations that can occur when operating a UAV.  Without being forced to document these SOPs many drone pilots may not give risk management as much thought as they should or not consider many factors.
  5. Knowledge of Air Law
    For those coming to the drone industry with no previous aviation experience there can be a lot of new concepts to understand. The SFOC process forces the applicant to research many of these topics as they relate to the rules of the sky and the associated procedures of coordinating with air traffic control, interacting with agencies such as Nav Canada, and so on.

That said there is still always the possibility of a fine, and there are cases of fines being laid for UAV use without an SFOC or in violation of SFOC terms, and in the event of an accident you can be assured that Transport Canada will start digging into the details of what was being done and if the proper paperwork was in place, but as noted above the fine alone may not be the most important factor. While it may seem like an uphill battle, the benefits outweigh the risks in the end and can better prepare you for a place in the industry long term and make you a safer more professional service provider.

Fly safe, fly smart, get an SFOC.

Flitelab.com offers SFOC consulting services for those looking for assistance in the process.  Contact us for details on how we can help get you operate safely & legally – info@flitelab.com

UAV Regs New US vs Proposed Canadian Laws

This week the FAA in the US introduced new regulations around the use of commercial drones which mark a major shift in opening up the industry to far more operators.

While there are a number of similarities between the approach by the US and Canada there are also some important differences.

Here is a quick look at the key elements and differences:


  • Single classification for all UAVs under 55lbs.
  • Aeronautical Knowledge Test will be administered to receive pilot certificate.
  • Pilot must be 16 years old.
  • VLOS Only
  • Cannot operate over people not involved in the operation.
  • Daytime only.
  • Operations in Class G airspace without coordination with ATC.
  • Operations in Class B, C, D, E airspace with ATC permission.
  • Visual Observer is not required.
  • Maximum altitude of 400′ AGL but with provision to be higher if near structures.
  • Airworthiness certification is not required.
  • Excludes recreational model aircraft.
  • No mandatory insurance requirement.


  • 3 size classifications for UAVs under 25kgs.
  • Knowledge test, possibly different levels based on type of use and size of aircraft.
  • A minimum age requirement of 14 while under adult supervision and 16 without
    adult supervision.
  • VLOS Only.
  • Limited ability to fly over public at some levels.
  • Daytime and some limited nighttime operations based on category.
  • Operations in Class G airspace without coordination with ATC.
  • Operations in Class B, C, D, E airspace with ATC coordination.
  • Visual Observer required.
  • Maximum altitude of 400′ AGL.
  • Minimum lateral distance requirements from person, animals, buildings, vehicles, etc
  • Design standard for UAVs in some categories, most commercial systems will require to meet the standard.
  • Restrictions around aerodromes and built up areas for some levels.
  • Removes the regulatory distinction between recreational and non-recreational users.  Exclusion to be made for modelling associations with robust safety guidelines.
  • Insurance required for most types of use.

Key differences:

  • US has no minimum lateral distances, only to not overfly people outside of the shoot.
  • US has no airworthiness certification, Canada may require a level of UAV design standard to be met for some uses.
  • US has no observer requirement.
  • Canadian regs would allow night operations at some levels but not all.
  • Canadian regs would allow flights over people at some levels but not all.

It should be noted that both will also have a waiver or SFOC process for uses that fall outside of the primary regulations which will be accessed on a case by case basis.

Overall it seems Transport Canada is taking a much more complex and risk based approach, which offers some additional flexibility but not without some significant additional requirements. Our view is the Canadian proposed solution is too complex for most general users to fully understand and potentially restricts use to a limited number of certified aircraft; given the less densely populated nation with fewer aircraft it seems to be a very limiting over restrictive approach.

It will be interesting to see how or if Transport Canada changes the proposed regulations before publishing Gazette 1 in spring 2017.

Tips & Insights – Event/Festival Drone Use

One of the growing uses of UAVs/drones is to gather photos and videos of outdoor events and festivals. These platforms provide great ways to capture unique perspectives of large gatherings, with much more dynamic vantage points and reduced costs over full scale aerial services. However there are restrictions and requirements around how, when, and where they can be used safely.


The first key element in utilizing a drone in such a production is the need for the operator to hold a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC).  Even if the aerials are being done by the event organizers themselves or done for in kind exchange instead of payment, it is considered commercial use and must meet the associated regulations set in place by Transport Canada. Nonprofit events also fall into this area.  Basically if it’s not a 100% recreational use then an SFOC will be needed.

Also be sure to check that the operator’s SFOC conditions meet your needs.  Not all operators for example can fly at night, or may be restricted to specific altitudes and limited airspace.  Not all SFOCs are the same so you cannot assume every operator is under the same restrictions.

Secondly the operator must have UAV specific liability insurance to operate under the SFOC.  General liability insurance typically does not cover aircraft use so a specific aviation policy is needed.  Make sure the coverage amount also meets your requirements, there is a wide range in coverage from the bare minimum Transport Canada requires of $100,000 up to $10 million or more.  Some properties may have minimum coverage requirements to access their sites.

If the drone provider does not have proper insurance or operates without an SFOC the event organizer may be held accountable for damages in the event an accident happens.

The following provides a list of the more common restrictions for flying near public gatherings, request can be made for variations from these but most often the following are what Transport Canada will require:

  • Must maintain 100′ horizontal distance from people/public not directly part of the event crew/staff.
  • Cannot overfly crowds of people.
  • Must maintain visual line of site between the drone and operator at all times.
  • Where the event is within controlled airspace, or near an airport/helipad, coordination with local air traffic control and facility managers may be required.

For events held on public lands, such as city/provincial/public parks, there may be additional bylaws and requirements that must be addressed as well for the use of drones on these properties. This may require the property owners to be named on the insurance policy as well. Always check with the property owner/manager for clearance and permission.

FL_150517_A_025 (1).jpg

It should also be noted that even for indoor public events an SFOC is still required, once it is no longer a closed set/controlled environment then the same restrictions and requirements as outdoor use applies.

The key element when dealing with events with large numbers of public in attendance is safety. Precautions must be taken to ensure the takeoff/landing areas are secure and managed and emergency procedures are in place.

flitelab-3 (2).jpg

The other larger factor over which no one has control is weather and is a unfortunate reality when dealing with outdoor events and drone operation. Most UAVs are limited to clear weather and within specific wind limits. It should always be taken into consideration that the drone may not be able to always fly, so it should be treated as a secondary element with alternative backups since there rarely is opportunity to reschedule for such live events.

With live event coverage timing is everything, so having a defined schedule of key elements to be covered from the air is critical. You don’t want to miss the key focus of the event by being unprepared to fly. Be sure to review the schedule with your provider and note the key times and items of focus.

The drone also should not be a distraction from the event, it is there to enhance coverage and not become the show itself. Larger systems can be noisy and also distract the attendance. Proper planning for the flight paths, distance, and altitudes can help ensure they minimize this impact.

Unfortunately many unauthorized drones end up at large events, so knowing who is and isn’t approved can help reduce headaches. Make all staff, officials, and law enforcement aware that a drone will be in use.  Performers should be informed as to when and where the aircraft will be flown so they are not distracted and can express any concerns it may have with their performance.  Notifications/signage indicating drones will be in use at the event can also go a a long way to reduce concerns to attendees.  The more informed all involved are the less chance for last minute concern when a drone appears hovering over the event.

With proper planning with a professional, skilled operator drones can offer a great new way to enhance outdoor events.fundy-concert.jpg

Flitelab offers drone based aerial media services and has covered numerous outdoor events such as the Bluenose Marathon, Hockeyday Canada, Serene Ryder Quietest Concert Ever.

Contact us for details on what we can do to make your next event a success and take things to a higher level with unique drone based perspectives.

No Drone Zone Clarification from Transport Canada

Back in mid June Transport Canada announced a new #nodronezone campaign around drones and use near airports. With that came much confusion around the underlying regulations and what was an actual offense.  For clarification we reached out to Transport Canada and received the following reply last week.  As has been previously mentioned there was no change in the actual regulations and the #nodronezone is a guideline only, 9KM distance to an aerodrome is not a violation in and of itself.

Thank you for contacting the Transport Canada Civil Aviation Communications Centre.

In regards to your inquiry, please find the response below.

Recreational Activities

Operating a model aircraft (recreational drone) within 9km of an aerodrome would be a violation of CAR 602.45 if the aircraft was being operated in a manner that is hazardous to aviation safety. The 9km (5nm) guideline is provided as guidance on how a recreational user of an unmanned aircraft (a model aircraft by definition) can comply with section 602.45 of the CARs which governs the operation of model aircraft. This regulation states “No person shall fly a model aircraft or a kite or launch a model rocket or a rocket of a type used in a fireworks display into cloud or in a manner that is or is likely to be hazardous to aviation safety”. The guidelines were provided to help those that are less familiar with aviation with how to operate their aircraft in a safe manner. This will keep these aircraft out of most control zones and away from concentrations of manned aircraft. As stated, the 9km (5nm) direction is only guidelines and not a regulations.

Another option, besides our guidelines, would be for such users to operate under a set of community based safety practices such as those provided by the Model Aeronautics Association of Canada (MAAC) which represents model aircraft enthusiast across Canada.

Non-recreational Activities

For those using an unmanned air vehicle (UAV), where an unmanned aircraft is being used for any non-recreational purpose (academia, first responders, commercial, media, etc), the regulatory requirement is that those operators must apply for and obtain a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) from Transport Canada prior to operating. An application for an SFOC is reviewed on a case-by-case basis to ensure the applicable risks are mitigated and a stringent set of conditions are mandated to ensure the operation can be conducted safely. These conditions are created to ensure the safety of other airspace users and people/property on the ground. Some of the conditions that would be required to protect other airspace users would include, for example, minimum distances from airports, maximum permitted altitudes, approved Classes of airspace, communication/coordination requirements with ATC, emergency procedures, etc. Additionally, UAV SFOCs contain conditions that require that the UAV to remain within Visual Line-of-Sight of the UAV pilot/visual observer, requiring the UAV pilot /visual observer to be able to see not only their aircraft but the airspace surrounding the UAV, and that the UAV always give way to all other aircraft.

One exception to the SFOC requirement stated above, would be the UAV Exemptions Transport Canada provided in late 2014. These exemptions permit certain lower-risk UAV operations, such as those conducted in rural areas, to be conducted without an SFOC. The exemption is only valid in areas that are 5nm (9km) from built-up areas (i.e. cities, towns, villages, etc), 5nm (9km) from any aerodrome (i.e. airport, heliport, helipad, seaplane base, etc) and in Class G airspace.

I trust that the foregoing has addressed your questions. Should you need other information on civil aviation matters, please feel free to contact us via email at services@tc.gc.ca

Again, thank you for writing.

Kind regards,

Program Information Officer / Agente d’information des programmes Transport Canada Civil Aviation Communications Centre/ Centre de communications de l’Aviation civile, Transports Canada
1 800 305-2059
Facsimile / Télécopieur 613-957-4208
TTY / ATS (613) 990-4500
Place de Ville (AARCB), Ottawa ON K1A 0N5 http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/air-menu.htm
Government of Canada / Gouvernement du Canada