UAV SFOC Exemptions “For Dummies”

tc-exemptionOver the last number of weeks since Transport Canada’s (TC) first announcement of the new UAV exemptions we have seen a number of people stating things that were less than accurate, based on how they interpreted the exemptions.  Much of this comes from how they were rolled out, with the details being left to last and often not noted in full.

If you merely review the Infographic it would seem to indicate that commercial use under 2kg is fairly open and free for anyone and 2-25kg is much this same with the addition of needing to submit a form stating a summary of where and when the operation is to take place.

The devil in the details however is this small part of the Infographic – you must meet the exemption requirements. Those requirements are spelled out in simple form on the second page of the Infographic, but the full specifics are in the Advisory Circular (AC) No. 600-004.  You need to reference this publication in order to see the full specifics of the exemption requirements. The flowchart and related press releases on the topic do not go into the full details.

The following is a summarized breakdown of the main requirements from how we understand them after close review and discussions with others in the industry.  As with anything we post we are not lawyers but feel it paints the clearer picture of the requirements but the ultimate responsibility of understanding these in full is yours. Again these are just some of the main requirements, there are additional conditions beyond these as well that need to be met and followed as well.

Under 2kg Class Exemption

  • maximum take-off weight not over 2 kilograms (4.4pounds)
  • must be operated within visual line-of-sight
  • pilot must be 18, or be at least 16 and conducting research under the supervision of an academic institution
  • have no less than $100,000 in UAV liability insurance coverage
  • cannot operate a UAV in any special aviation event such as an airshow
  • pilot cannot use a first person view
  • can only operate one UAV at a time
  • can only fly during daylight hours
  • must keep below 300 feet above ground and only in uncontrolled airspace
  • cannot fly over a forest fire area, or over any area that is located within 5 nautical miles of a forest fire
  • must keep at least 5 nautical miles away from the centre of any airport/helipad, or a built-up area
  • must keep at least 100 feet from any building, structure, vehicle, vessel or animal not associated with the operation and at least 100 feet from any people
  • cannot fly over an open-air assembly of people
  • must be clear of cloud with not less than 2 statute miles ground visibility
  • no explosive, corrosive, bio-hazard or bright light emitting (laser) payloads can be carried onboard

2-25kg Class Exemption

  • maximum take-off weight not exceeding 25 kilograms (55 pounds)
  • must be operated within visual line-of-sight
  • pilot must be 18
  • must have at least $100,000 in UAV liability insurance coverage
  • cannot operate a UAV in any special aviation event such as an airshow
  • pilot cannot use a first person view
  • can only operate one UAV at a time
  • can only fly during daylight hours
  • must keep below 300 feet above ground and only in uncontrolled airspace
  • cannot fly over a forest fire area, or over any area that is located within 5 nautical miles of a forest fire
  • must keep at least 5 nautical miles away from the centre of any airport/helipad, or a built up area
  • must keep at least 500 feet from any building, structure, vehicle, vessel, animal, or person not associated with the operation
  • cannot fly over an open-air assembly of people
  • must be clear of cloud with not less than 2 statute miles ground visibility
  • no explosive, corrosive, bio-hazard or bright light emitting (laser) payloads can be carried onboard
  • hand-held fire extinguisher must be on hand
  • the pilot must have successfully completed a pilot ground school course

A copy of all pertinent documents need to be accessible to any person conducting the operations and immediately produce any of the documents and/or information to a peace officer, police officer, or Transport Canada inspector upon request.

The main item that most overlook and that restricts the widespread use of the exemptions for many is the 5NM (9KM) restrictions from airports and built-up areas.  The confusion comes from what a “built-up area” is as TC has not defined in clearly, however it is generally referred to mean the following:

any group of structures that could interfere with the safe operation of an aircraft. These can include houses, factories, service stations, grain elevators, apartment buildings, or airports

NOTE: Built-up Area has since been further defined by TC as noted in this article:
https://blog.flitelab.com/2014/12/19/terminology-built-up-area/ 

So any town or village or group of houses/buildings, etc would generally fall into this definition and be outside what the exemption allows. For example you couldn’t do real estate shoots with a UAV under the exemption if it were in a subdivision or community as those would be built-up areas.

The main distinction between the under 2kg and 2-25kg class is the need for the pilot in the larger class to have ground school training. As well in the larger class you must keep 500 feet from buildings and people whereas it is 100 feet in the smaller class.

As noted previously there is much more to the exemptions that what the infographic shows, and it is the responsibility of the operator to ensure they are fully compliant with the exemption requirements.

You must observe and comply with all the conditions included in the applicable exemption in order to use the exemption as your authority to operate a UAV. If not you could be subject to penalties/fines.

When you boil down the exemptions they are really for very specific and limited use, targeted at remote rural areas for farming, forestry, and mining type operations.  For most operators the restrictions will be far too limiting for them to be used for commercial work, and you will need to file for an SFOC as had been done in the past. Unfortunately the ease and openness that was mentioned by all the media at the press release is truly not there for most.

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