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.


Rethinking Canadian “Drone” Laws

Since the announcement of much tougher recreational drone/model aircraft regulations by the Minister of Transport in mid March, there have been numerous debates on the direction and impact of the new laws.  Canadian regulations basically went from a free for all to basic ban overnight.  Somewhere in the middle of the extremes is a balance.

This article outlines some thoughts on where that balance may be and an improved approach to addressing the management of drones/uavs/models going forward that not only accounts for aviation and public safety, but takes a real world view that the technology is here to stay and must be allowed to be used both recreationally and commercially if Canada is to remain at the forefront of innovation.

These ideas and concepts are not set in stone but merely first thoughts on striking a fair and balanced approach to address the concerns of all stakeholders.  No set of laws will be perfect for all but they should address each group as fairly as possible.


Canadian Drone Rules – One Extreme to Another

With the recent new recreational regulations announced on March 16 by the Minister of Transport there has under gone a major change from basically a free for all on recreational use to almost a complete ban in many areas.

New regulations to control recreational drone use were definitely needed, and something commercial UAV operators have been working under for many years.  Prior to this announcement  users could basically fly anywhere they wanted as long as no manned aircraft was put in danger.  While many people operated with common sense, there were a few that pushed the limits flying over concerts, roadways, near airports and aircraft, and being a nuisance to general public.

As well the recreational openness became a loophole for some to skirt proper commercial use requirements, flying in the guise of “fun” only to later use the footage they collected for commercial purposes, or as part of “passion projects” that were beyond the spirit of the recreational laws.  This created an unfair systems with those trying to work legally within the system.

While most of the new laws already existed prior as guidelines, they were not enforceable as such.  With the growing use of drones and ongoing abuse there was little left for the regulators to do but impose common sense on everyone to address the issues caused by a few.


Where can I fly my drone??

With tight restrictions on where recreational drones/models can now be used in Canada many owners are wondering where they can legally fly.

The main issue involved:

  • 9 km of any airport/aerodrome/helipad.
  • 250 feet (75m) from buildings, vehicles, people.

Even in more rural/suburban areas, getting 250′ feet from neighbors and roads can be a challenge.  The local soccer/ball field that many may have used before is many times bordering residential areas or next to a school or community center.

That being said, there are still areas available for recreational model use within most cities.  As part of the regulations was an exclusion for MAAC (Model Aeronautics Association of Canada) fields.  If you are interested more in the RC hobby definitely check for a local club as it can be a great place to learn.

For many however the aircraft & flight aspects of drone use are not the focus, and it is more about getting unique aerial photos and video, so flying at the same field all the time may not meet their needs.

To help determine where the new zones apply the NRC website is a good resource.  While not perfect it is currently one of the few accessible locations to find information on where controlled airspace and airports are located – NRC UAV Site Selection Tool
(One item to note on the NRC site is that many aerodromes are shown with only a 3NM circle, not the 5NM/9KM zone of the recent regulations.)

Another tool for mobile users is UAV Forecast.  The app provides mapping capabilities and you can set the distance around each type of airspace and airport.  Available for both iOS and Android.

AirMarket is another new online resource for UAV operators that provides online flight planning and maps as a paid service.  A free trial is available.

In addition this article outlines other related tools to assist with determining airspace and related information: Canadian Aviation Chart Resources

NOTE:  There are many other areas that may also be off limits.  Parks Canada and many cities and other areas have bylaws that restrict drone use as well.  The links above mainly focus on the airspace and aviation areas outlined by the new Transport Canada regulations.




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

Drone vs UAV vs Model Aircraft – What are they??

With the new Canadian “drone” recreational regulations there is a lot of confusion around what they apply to and what a model is vs a UAV vs a drone.  When it comes to Transport Canada regulations the name and wording is important.

First off the term “drone” is not an official name used in the regulations,  it is more a media/public label catch all for any remote aircraft, although generally thought of as camera carrying quadcopters such as the DJI Phantom.

In the Transport Canada dictionary there are basically two definitions: Model Aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicle or UAV and the main difference is if they are used commercially or recreationally.

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.

unmanned air vehicle means a power-driven aircraft, other than a model aircraft, that is designed to fly without a human operator on board.

The exact same aircraft is defined differently based on its use.  Basically if it is used commercially it is an UAV, if it is recreational then it is a Model Aircraft, and the associated regulations then apply to the type.  The same “drone” such as a DJI Phantom is a Model Aircraft if flown for fun and an UAV if flown for commercial use.

The new March 16 2017 regulations are for Model Aircraft used recreationally – http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/mediaroom/interim-order-respecting-use-model-aircraft.html