UAV SFOC Myths: SFOC process is too complicated, so I won’t bother with one

Myths and Facts opposition written on whiteboardUAV SFOC Myth: SFOC process is too complicated, so I won’t bother with one.

This is one we hear all too often.  People take a quick look at the rules involved with commercial UAV operation and then quickly give up saying its too complex, takes too long, system doesn’t work, etc…

It is perhaps the result of many coming into the UAV industry having no previous business experience, or lack of insight to the regulatory side that exists in most all industries. Many people make a decision to jump into a drone business hoping to make their hobby into a money making activity overnight with little to no time or investment. The realities of the world however are much different than the “get rich quick with a drone” dreams of the naive.

As we wrote about in The Regulation Game…, regulations have existed since ancient times so they are nothing new to just UAVs. Like them or not they exist and you need to work with them for better or worse until things can change, and change with anything government related comes at a slow pace.

Ignorance of the rules that govern an industry are not an excuse that will hold up when the enforcement officers show up.  You can’t open a restaurant without proper certificates and licenses, and much the same holds true in the UAV industry.  All businesses have regulations they have to work within, be they good, bad, or indifferent.

One of our favorite complaints is “the system is too slow and doesn’t work”, which most times comes from people that have never even filed an SFOC.  They hear from various forums or third hand comments how tough it is, quickly scan the regulations themselves, and then determine the system is broke, without ever even made an attempt to file.  We will be first to state that the SFOC process is not perfect, it can be confusing, frustrating, and slow, however it does work.  There are many operators getting SFOC, including long term standing SFOCs.

The reality is if you are serious about a UAV business, or any business, then the time it takes to read and understand the regulations is time well spent and will help you develop a solid framework and allow you to work legally. It wont happen overnight but it is doable, you just need to give it the time it demands.


  1. Your complacent acceptance of an overly burdensome regulatory state as ‘just a fact of life’ like it’s no different than the weather is a depressing indicator of how people have acclimated themselves to the modern inefficient bureaucratic state. Overly burdensome, confusing regulations seen over by an often lazy bureaucracy of “inspectors” who themselves barely understand aviation is not something I would shrug off as “welp, it’s always been that way and LOL if you think things should be better or different”. We must not look at the *intentions* of a regulation or body of regulations but look at the *outcomes* and whether they are actually achieving the intended results. In this case as you admit; people are just ignoring them. I can tell you I’m becoming tempted to as well. I’ve spent the past 3 MONTHS trying to get an SFOC for a simple Phantom flight around a rural home for a real estate video. My background is in aviation, I’ve been in ATC for over 8 years now so airspace structure, aviation weather, aviation procedures and publications are all my specialty. The home is in a rural location but *GASP* there’s a small village 5kms away which qualifies as a “built-up area” according to the *NEW & IMPROVED* “RELAXED” regulations. So I’ve done the right thing, I’ve applied for an SFOC. My initial application was around 15 pages long and meticulously outlined all stages of flight, pre-flight, post flight maintenance, risk mitigation etc etc etc. I spent a total of approximately 16 hours working on this.

    After 5 weeks I get a reply from an inspector at the regional Transport office telling me “while there are some good things here I’ll need you to provide some more information and make some changes” Okay, fair enough. “For example under ‘Pre-Flight’ you listed ‘File SFOC’ what I think you MEANT to write was ‘Submit SFOC application'” Aside from this type of petty nitpicking he also included a checklist that he suggested using to go over the application and revise it. So I did. After another several hours of revising and editing I returned the application. A week goes by: nothing. Two weeks go by: nothing. After the third week I wrote the inspector back and got an auto reply that he was on vacation. A week after that I wrote him again asking for any updates on my application. Nothing. I should be clear that throughout this process in all of my correspondence with him I have been nothing but polite and professional. By now the requested time period on the SFOC has come and gone so I guess that’s that. I know that he’s still at the office as an inspector because a colleague of mine has spoke with him on another matter.

    So I’m trying to do the right thing, follow the rules, jump through the hoops and above all INVESTING HOURS OF MY TIME and what do I get? Nothing. Not even a response. And this is so I can fly a goddamned Phantom over a house in the middle of NOWHERE.

    This is what I get for playing by the rules meanwhile there’s clowns like this in my town

    I know for a fact this guy does not have an SFOC, he’s flying 3 kms from the airport, through a power line on a busy street. He’s not obeying the rules either and nobody is stopping him, so why should I?

    Here’s the thing about rules: they work best when they’re simple. People talk about these small UAVs like “well the future has changed SO FAST we really need time to adapt these potentially dangerous vehicles into our economy!” Well you know what else is a dangerous vehicle? A 4,000 pound car. Or a boat. Or a jet ski. And how do we deal with those? Do I need to write my regional Transport Canada office 1 month in advance if I want to drive across town to take some pictures of a house? No I prove that I’m capable of using the vehicle via a test and then I’m given a license. This is how it should be done with small UAVs as well. You study, you write the test, you get a license.

    Instead we have this byzantine system of rules enforced by petty bureaucrats under the auspices of “protecting the public” when in reality they achieve very little other than frustrating and wasting the time of would be entrepreneurs who are trying to create things of value.

    Really depressing.


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