New Canadian Drone Rules – Recreational vs Commercial Confusion

Since the changes to the recreational drone regulations in Canada back in mid March there has been a lot of push back from users upset with the restrictions limiting where they can now fly.  As we wrote about previously, most urban areas are now almost completely off limits to recreational drone use with the new regulations.

As part of the chatter around the new laws we often see comments from photographers, film makers, and others using their drone in parts of their work that are upset with the changes and that it limits their use.

However, the new regulations only impact “recreational” use, and as such have no impact on commercial applications.

In the eyes of Transport Canada recreational use is seen as being purely for fun. Anything that is not 100% for personal enjoyment falls outside the scope of recreational use and requires an SFOC or Exemption for legal use.

Even use for passion/indie projects where there may be no direct profit or payment from a client would fall into this area.  This also applies to search & rescue, research, and use on ones own property, all being “non-recreational”.  Taking photos for a friend’s house listing, selling prints, even footage for non profit organizations, use for your own marketing & social promotion, etc all are commercial in nature under the regulations.  If the drone is being used as a tool to collect footage for part of something more than the enjoyment of flying then it probably would not be considered recreational.

Transport Canada has even gone so far to say that use of footage on YouTube could be considered non recreational and subject to needing an SFOC, although this is still a grey area and yet to be tested.

That said if you are using a drone directly or indirectly for collecting photos and video for projects or business then you most likely need to follow the non-recreational rules to be legal.  Otherwise you could face potential fines and be personally liable if an accident were to happen.

For more information on applying for an SFOC, see this most recent article – “Overview of National UAV SFOC Application Form” covering the new National application form.

Additional information can be found throughout the blog as well, or for more direct assistance we also offer SFOC consulting as a service, see here for full details – SFOC Application Consulting Services


The following was received from Transport Canada PNR as a resource for UAV operators regarding Lithium batteries


Many UAV operators utilize equipment which uses Lithium batteries as a power source for the UAV, Control Station and other ancillary equipment required for operations.  There have been several recent incidents of Lithium Batteries catching fire, overheating, exploding and releasing toxic substances into the atmosphere.  It behooves all UAV operators to ensure that they are in compliance with all regulations concerning the transportation of these and other dangerous goods between job sites, whether by air, sea or surface, to ensure the safety of their crews and the general public.


The following links provide guidance on the regulatory requirements for transportation of dangerous goods, including Lithium Batteries.


As part of the updated National SFOC form and document package, the following GUIDANCE ON NAVCANADA EXPECTATIONS AND ROLES IN COORDINATION OF AIRSPACE was also provided from PNR.

It outlines areas of concern, procedures, and expectations for UAV operations within the Edmonton and Winnipeg FIR.


Overview of National UAV SFOC Application Form

The new National UAV SFOC application form is now slowly starting to roll out from various Transport Canada regional offices.  This will be the form used going forward for submitting SFOCs across the country, bringing consistency finally to the process.

Application for a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) for the Operation of an Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) System in Canadian Airspace

The following is a quick overview of the form, the procedure for applying, and related notes.

First off while the form is now National, applications are still regional, submitting the form to each region for review.  (Only Compliant level SFOCs can be requested for the entire country.)

The form handles all types of SFOCs for UAVs from Simplified/Complex/Standing/Compliant, VLOS/BVLOS, Day/Night for all classes of airspace.

SI 623-001 and AC 600-004 are still the basis on which the application is based and reviewed, which to date has not changed.


Draft National UAV SFOC Form

The following is a draft version of the newly announced SFOC form that will be used across all regions “soon”.

We are posting it here for reference only and it should not be used without direct indication from Transport Canada.

Transport Canada is in the process of finalizing the form and will be posting it on the official website.

The form is currnetly being used by most regions and is intended to repalce previous forms and processes for SFOC submissions.