SFOCs – Not a Drone Get Out of Jail Free Card

With the new restrictions on recreational drone/model use in Canada, many are looking to SFOCs (Special Flight Operations Certificate) commonly used by commercial UAV operators as a means to open things back up.

While SFOCs do allow for access to areas now closed to recreational use, they are far from the free for all that existed for recreational flyers prior to March 16th.  They come with  a number of requirements and restrictions that keep use in a fairly tight box.

While every SFOC can be different, the following are the most common elements:

  • Must be kept under 400′.
  • Need to keep 100′ distance from people, buildings, vehicles not part of the flight.  Cannot fly over public/crowds.
  • Can only fly in clear weather meeting defined visibility and wind conditions.
  • Cannot fly near forest fires or emergency area without proper authorization.
  • Must have UAV liability insurance.
  • Need to have an observer/spotter in addition to the pilot.
  • Cannot fly over private property without permissions.
  • Must be 18 or older, including pilot and observer.
  • Flights near airports and in controlled airspace are permitted but requires coordination in advance with Nav Canada and air traffic control and may be denied in some cases.
  • Night flights may be permitted but requires additional processes & procedures be in place.
  • Understand or training on knowledge requirements as outlined by Transport Canada is required.
  • Full set of documents outlining operational procedures, risk management, emergency planning, training, maintenance, logging, etc must be defined and maintained.

In addition when applying for an SFOC the first number of times (typically 3) it will be location and date specific.  You need to apply for each flight individually until you have a proven track record for safe use before you can request a long term or Standing SFOC for a larger area and date range.

SFOC applications can also take a fairly long time for approval.  While Transport Canada states 20 days, it can often take much longer, in some cases up to 3-4 months.  With many more application entering the system this will no doubt increase.

While SFOCs do provide some flexibility, they are not without their own restrictions so be aware before you consider it as a quick fix to the current lockdown.

For those interested in pursuing an SFOC see the other articles in our blog for details, or for more direct assistance we also offer this as a service, see here for full details – SFOC Application Consulting Services

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