New SFOC Application Process – Part 1

sfocBack in November Transport Canada (TC) made a number of press announcements around new exemptions being put in place governing the use of UAV for commercial purposes.  The intent of these new exemptions were to simplify the process of utilizing UAVs and take the load off the existing Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) application process to help streamline the overall process.

“These exemptions mark an important milestone in UAV safety. By easing restrictions for businesses, Canada is promoting growth and innovation in an important sector, while ensuring the continued safety of those on the ground and in the sky.”

The Honourable Lisa Raitt
Minister of Transport

However, the specifics of these new exemptions are very limiting in terms of when and where they can be used and they effectively are limited to very rural locations as we noted in these previous articles:

Under the exemptions the main limiting factor is the 5NM distance requirement from any airport or built up area, making the exemptions unusable for any work near towns or villages or larger urban areas.  There are also tight limits on altitude and distance to surrounding structures that further limit their use.  As a result many operators will  still require to use the SFOC process for most operations.

What was not publicized by TC however were significant changes to the SFOC application process itself. These changes were implemented on Noember 19th and outlined in an updated Staff Instruction document SI 623-001 Review and Processing of an Application for a Special Flight Operations Certificate for the Operation of an Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) System. (We have linked to a copy of this document provided by TC, however it should be noted that at this time this document is not available on the TC website as it was for the previous version.  It is unknown as to why this has been removed.)

Prior to the new regulations being announced, we (flitelab) submitted new SFOCs under the previous existing process in order to update our soon to expire blanket SFOCs.  These were sent on November 12th, using the same process that had been used successfully multiple times prior.  After a month long period of no response we contacted the regional TC office multiple times to find out the status of these applications. On December 17th we were informed of the new SFOC process and that our existing applications would not be processed and that we would need to refile under the new process:

Thank you for your patience. This email is to inform you that much has changed with the SFOC application process. Also the requirements to have an SFOC to operate UAVs commercially has also changed.

As you may have heard. Transport Canada has implemented exemptions to the Canadian Aviation Regulations effective November 27, 2014. Essentially what this means is that at this time it is possible to operate a UAV for commercial purposes legally without having an SFOC, however there are very specific conditions that must be met before this can happen. This might come as good news for you, as it may allow you to operate in some locations without an SFOC. Here is the link to the information: http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/civilaviation/standards/general-recavi-uav-2265.htm?WT.mc_id=21zwi

If the conditions of the exemption cannot be met then an SFOC will be required. Transport Canada has released a new updated SUR 623-001 “Review and Processing of an Application for a Special Flight Operations Certificate for the Operation of an Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) System”. This is a policy document created to help Transport Canada inspectors and the general public in the creation and review of SFOC applications. I have attached a copy for your use.

The SFOC application process has significantly changed and unfortunately all applications already in our system will have to be revised and resubmitted for processing. All new applications will have to be created as per the requirements of the new SUR 623-001. We apologizes for any inconvenience this may cause.

Due to this change our application is now in limbo and effectively will be without an SFOC until a new request can be submitted, putting us back at the end of the queue.

The confusion however begins with a review of the new SI document.  It states the following in regards to existing applications, which is in direct contradiction to what we were told as noted above:

Certificate applicants that have an SFOC awaiting processing will not be required to submit a new SFOC application; however the submitted SFOC application will be assessed based on the guidance herein. Inspectors should anticipate that these applications may not contain all the required information to process the SFOC and additional coordination with the applicant may be required.

All new applications will need to use the new process:

All UAV system SFOC applications that are received after the publication of this SI shall be processed in accordance with the guidance herein.

For existing SFOC holders it appears those certificates will still be valid until their expiry date is reached:

Certificate applicants who hold a valid SFOC, as of the date this SI is published, may continue operations under that SFOC until that SFOC expires. When renewing said SFOC additional information may be required to ensure applicants meet the new requirements.

The regional TC office has been contacted as a followup for further details but at this time they have not responded.

We will be posting new articles on this as new information is obtained, as well as providing analysis of the new SFOC process.

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