UAV SFOC Myths: I won’t charge for the aerials only editing to avoid the regulations

Myths and Facts opposition written on whiteboardUAV SFOC Myth: I won’t charge for the aerials only editing to avoid the regulations.

One way that many try to work around the need for an SFOC, and thus avoid the associated regulations, is to not charge for the aerial work but instead charge the client for editing or other indirect services.  This loophole however is closed. An operation is still considered “commercial” even when there is no direct payment for the aerial services themselves.

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”.

This also includes use on your own property, so a farmer inspecting his fields or animals, management company using it on site of their own building, real estate agents on listings they manage all are considered commercial use. Even search & rescue and volunteer/charity work falls into this category. Again if its not purely for fun then it is seen as commercial and thus requires an SFOC or Exemption.


  1. I agree with your post, however, I was hoping you could elaborate on the last point: “Even search & rescue and volunteer/charity work falls into this category.”

    When I started making SFOC requests, it was to build a portfolio and test the process. My first requests where ignored by TC. When I finally harassed them, the agent told me that I didn’t need and SFOC for those operations where I flew just to make a demo video for myself and wasn’t receiving payment or compensation.

    Based on that premise, I have often produced aerial video for free, either for documentaries, short films, news media… I do it “for fun” (it has to be fun, since I don’t get paid), and then hand it over to this third party without any form of compensation. I also use the video later in my own portfolio/demo.

    In my opinion, this is similar to somebody posting amateur video on YouTube, and then having a TV network pick it up.

    I feel this doesn’t go against the spirit of the rule that you quoted. It also fits with what the TC agent told me.

    On the other hand, I agree that regular volunteer/charity “work” should require an SFOC, but where do you draw the line exactly?

    What if my buddy organizes and outdoor pond hockey tournament to raise money for cancer research, and he asks me to bring my Phantom to do a few aerial shots from a distance? I’m still doing it just for “fun”, without compensation… But it’s a form of charity “work”, since the video will likely be used to promote next year’s fundraising event… So the “cause” does benefit. What if I happen to be on the committee that organizes the event? Then I have a personal interest in promoting it… In my opinion, you don’t need an SFOC, unless you are on the organizing committee.

    Or here is another one for you: we all know a real estate agent needs an SFOC, but what if I sell my house by myself. I may have taken aerial shots from by backyard several times. That doesn’t require an SFOC. What if I use one of those pictures on my ProprioDirect advertisement? I believe you should be allowed to do that. But the regulation doesn’t permit it if you follow it to the letter. And yet, I’m pretty sure TC wouldn’t issue a fine for that sort of offense…

    And a last one. What if my neighbor let his dog run out in the bush behind his house and we decide we’ll try to see if we can spot it with my Phantom, for “fun”, before it comes back. No SFOC, right? What if the dog is actually lost and I just happen to be flying over for “leisure” and happen to spot it? No SFOC, right! What if the neighbor asks me to use the Phantom to look for his lost dog… Then it gets greyer… I would say no SFOC, but you may disagree. What if it’s not a dog, but a child, and the police is already looking, but I just want to help by flying my Phantom over the area? SFOC? And yet, this is always the exact same activity, done the exact same way, without compensation of any kind.

    Your thoughts…


    1. It all comes down to interpretation by the TC agent. I have had some say that testing is fine with no SFOC and I have heard that others state that any and all flights, even to test a new prop, need an SFOC. By the letter of the law all flights would need an SFOC if related to the business in any manner. Best to ask your regional rep as to what their specific take is.

      As I noted even search & rescue and free work can be deemed commercial. How far you want to play in the grey area is up to you, and comes down to how much risk you want to accept. For us we don’t do anything unless an SFOC is in place.

      End of the day it doesn’t matter what your opinion is, it will be the opinion of the TC enforcement officer that matters. All the examples you listed would require an SFOC in my view.


      1. One more question: where do you get the “hire and reward” criteria from? I know it’s defined in the Aeronautical Act. I have also been told by TC agents that’s it’s how I should distinguish between a recreational (model aircraft) and a professional (UAV) activity. And yet, I have never seen a single official document that makes that connection…


    1. That is not what I asked. I know it’s defined. But where does it say that it applies to UAVs or that it’s a criteria to determine whether or not a model aircraft is considered to be used for recreational purposes? That’s what I’m looking for.


  2. It’s defined in subsection 3(1) of the Aeronautics Act.

    In simple terms if you really have to stop and think if it is commercial or not then 99% chance it is commercial. Recreational is meant as 100% for fun and no other purposes. If it’s being done as some sort of service or purpose beyond simple flying for pleasure then it can easily fall into commercial.

    Also if your doing some clearly commercial work, then it gets harder for TC to separate any flying you do from this, especially if you are using the same aircraft for recreation and commercial activities.


    1. That guideline is easy for commercial operators to work with. But what if you’re talking to a class full of hobbyists who own multirotors for leisure, but might and up using them for other purposes? Those are the people who get confused by the regulation. I need to be able to clearly outline what they can and can’t do. It’s when you try to teach this fuzzy regulation that problems arise.

      Take the search and rescue scenario for instance. Do we tell all hobbyists that they can’t use their Phantom to look for a lost child in the woods? And how do we even rationalize that statement? I don’t believe the “hire and reward” criteria applies in that case. Not if someone is acting out of kindness.


      1. Not understanding regulations is generally not an accepted excuse. All part of being in the industry to understand the ins and outs of things. Yes it is complicated and takes time and effort to understand. Those not willing to invest that time will be left frustrated. But this is the same for any industry. Try going into the restaurant business and pleading ignorance on health laws, you wouldn’t get far.

        You may not agree with the regulations, but reality is search & rescue by definition requires an SFOC. If TC would charge someone for that activity it is hard to say. Even the RCMP have to have SFOCs.

        If you want a clear way to describe it merely state that anything not 100% recreational is deemed commercial. If you want to play semantics in the grey area that is your decision. Again I merely am presenting what I know based on our work, experience with TC, and understanding of the regulations as written.


  3. I assure you that I have spent a significant amount of time understanding the regulation, and arguing that I just need to invest more time in it is not only insulting, it is counterproductive. You’re knowledge may be based on valid personal experience and your information may come for reliable sources within TC. But if you have paid any attention to the current evolution of the consumer UAV scene, you will notice that everybody and their neighbor is now flying one. We need to be able to tell those people what they can and can’t do, and for that, we need clear guidelines from TC. You may feel that they are already clear enough. I disagree, because I am unable at present to find a definitive answer to the scenarios presented previously in this thread.


    1. We will need to agree to disagree then. In my mind where those examples fall are clear – SFOC required.

      Again best to reach out to TC for further clarity. My comments are based on what I have seen and heard in the industry, far too many try and find issues or work the semantics to be something they are not and make it more confusing than required. I’m well aware of the current UAV scene, both recreational and commercially, I’ve been working in this industry for the last number of years. You may not agree with my views on it but that is your choice to make.


    I consulted with my “legal department” and finally figured out what was going on.

    It turns out that when they changed Staff Instruction 623-001 and adopted the #2 issue, they removed a whole section that used to explain what “recreational” meant.

    Here is what it used to say under section 4.5 (2) (d) in the DRAFT of #2 issue and, I believe, in the original #1 issue:

    (d) While model aircraft do not need a SFOC, they are limited in their operation (e.g. operated by sporting enthusiasts for recreational purposes and personal enjoyment, not for monetary gain or any other form of hire and reward). Recreational use of aircraft does not include use of aircraft where there is any payment, consideration, gratuity or benefit, directly or indirectly charged, demanded, received or collected by any person for such use.

    That was much clearer, and connects with the “hire and reward” definition in the Aeronautics Act. I remember reading that last year, but couldn’t find it anymore this morning. But I finally found an old copy on

    This seams to support my theory that there is currently no definition for “recreational activity” in the TC regulation or in the directives. It’s left to interpretation whether an activity is work related or not.

    You may feel like I’m trying to “play semantics”, but it’s really about getting the lay of the land and accurate knowledge. I agree with your recommendation about getting an SFOC if it’s not 100% recreational, but I will need to check my own practices with TC, because it seems like they may have changed their tune from last year. Like I said, I was explicitly told I could produce aerial video for my portfolio and/or give the video to a third party, as long as I didn’t get paid for it.


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