UAV SFOC How To – Part 1 Getting Started

Back a year or so ago we wrote about the SFOC (Special Flight Operation Certificate) process, providing some details on how the application works, basic info that is needed, and related details for making an application.  We also posted a sample of our application a few months back for what we had used in our applications.  Since Nov 19th however the process has changed and there seems to be a lot of confusion around how the process works and how you make an application under the new structure.

In an attempt to better explain the SFOC and related processes we are doing a series of How To articles on the steps involved to help provide some insight and clarity on the subject.

Getting Started…

The first question you need to ask is do you even need an SFOC? The Transport Canada (TC) Infographic provides a quick but albeit simplified flowchart for checking…


If your flying purely for recreation and fun then no SFOC is needed and the exemptions as well will not apply.  In most cases fly with “common sense” and you should have no problems.

It should be noted that what is deemed “commercial” vs “recreational” goes beyond just having direct payment for flight services.  Activities such as search and rescue, academic research, work for charities, and indirect compensation are all deemed commercial by TC.

Subsection 101.01(1) of the CARs defines model aircraft as: “model aircraft” – means an aircraft, the total weight of which does not exceed 35 kg (77.2 pounds), that is mechanically driven or launched into flight for recreational purposes and that is not designed to carry persons or other living creatures.

While the CARs do not define “recreational purposes”, a dictionary definition of recreation is “not for work – done for pleasure or relaxation”. Model aircraft enthusiasts fly their aircraft as a pastime, an unpaid diversion, as an activity that “diverts, amuses, or stimulates”. Section 602.45 of the CARs was put in place to allow sporting enthusiasts to operate model aircraft for personal enjoyment but not for monetary gain or other form of hire and reward. The Aeronautics Act defines hire and reward as
(a) “any payment, consideration, gratuity or benefit, directly or indirectly charged, demanded, received or collected by any person for the use of an aircraft”.
(b) Equipping model aircraft with a payload does not, in itself, make the model a UAV, however, once the model aircraft is launched for any reason other than recreational purposes, it is an unmanned air vehicle.

If your use does in fact fall under commercial, then the next step is to determine if an exemption may apply. An exemption is the next simplest way forward, so making use of it if possible is the best choice if you can fit into the restrictions. We outlined the details on the exemptions in the following article – UAV SFOC Exemptions “For Dummies”  The full details can be found in Advisory Circular (AC) No. 600-004.  The main item that most overlook and that restricts the widespread use of the exemptions is the 5NM (9KM) restrictions from airports and built-up areas.

Built-up Areas are considered areas with groups of buildings or dwellings including anything from small hamlets to major cities. Anything larger than a farmstead should be considered a 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.

Depending on your flight requirements you may be able to adjust your parameters to fit within an exemption, so this may be something to consider if that is a potential option. However for many the operation location will most likely be fairly fixed and thus dictate where you fit.

Our article New SFOC & Exemption Summary provides some additional general summary information on the subject as well that may help clarify what path applies for your specific use.

If the exemptions don’t fit your needs then applying for an SFOC will be required for you to operate legally for commercial use.

In Part 2 we will start getting into the actual SFOC details.


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