Section 333 Exemptions made easy – That Drone Show

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UAV SFOC How To – Part 1 Getting Started

Back a year or so ago we wrote about the SFOC (Special Flight Operation Certificate) process, providing some details on how the application works, basic info that is needed, and related details for making an application.  We also posted a sample of our application a few months back for what we had used in our applications.  Since Nov 19th however the process has changed and there seems to be a lot of confusion around how the process works and how you make an application under the new structure.

In an attempt to better explain the SFOC and related processes we are doing a series of How To articles on the steps involved to help provide some insight and clarity on the subject.

Getting Started…

The first question you need to ask is do you even need an SFOC? The Transport Canada (TC) Infographic provides a quick but albeit simplified flowchart for checking…


If your flying purely for recreation and fun then no SFOC is needed and the exemptions as well will not apply.  In most cases fly with “common sense” and you should have no problems.

It should be noted that what is deemed “commercial” vs “recreational” goes beyond just having direct payment for flight services.  Activities such as search and rescue, academic research, work for charities, and indirect compensation are all deemed commercial by TC.

Subsection 101.01(1) of the CARs defines model aircraft as: “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.

While the CARs do not define “recreational purposes”, a dictionary definition of recreation is “not for work – done for pleasure or relaxation”. Model aircraft enthusiasts fly their aircraft as a pastime, an unpaid diversion, as an activity that “diverts, amuses, or stimulates”. Section 602.45 of the CARs was put in place to allow sporting enthusiasts to operate model aircraft for personal enjoyment but not for monetary gain or other form of hire and reward. 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”.
(b) Equipping model aircraft with a payload does not, in itself, make the model a UAV, however, once the model aircraft is launched for any reason other than recreational purposes, it is an unmanned air vehicle.

If your use does in fact fall under commercial, then the next step is to determine if an exemption may apply. An exemption is the next simplest way forward, so making use of it if possible is the best choice if you can fit into the restrictions. We outlined the details on the exemptions in the following article – UAV SFOC Exemptions “For Dummies”  The full details can be found in Advisory Circular (AC) No. 600-004.  The main item that most overlook and that restricts the widespread use of the exemptions is the 5NM (9KM) restrictions from airports and built-up areas.

Built-up Areas are considered areas with groups of buildings or dwellings including anything from small hamlets to major cities. Anything larger than a farmstead should be considered a built up area.

So any town or village or group of houses/buildings, etc would generally fall into this definition and be outside what the exemption allows. For example you couldn’t do real estate shoots with a UAV under the exemption if it were in a subdivision or community as those would be built-up areas.

Depending on your flight requirements you may be able to adjust your parameters to fit within an exemption, so this may be something to consider if that is a potential option. However for many the operation location will most likely be fairly fixed and thus dictate where you fit.

Our article New SFOC & Exemption Summary provides some additional general summary information on the subject as well that may help clarify what path applies for your specific use.

If the exemptions don’t fit your needs then applying for an SFOC will be required for you to operate legally for commercial use.

In Part 2 we will start getting into the actual SFOC details.

New SFOC & Exemption Summary

After studying, reviewing, and writing on the new SFOC Application Process and Exemptions the last few days, I thought I would summarize the key points into a quick reference article.  This summary represents our understanding of the current new processes; be sure to reference the Transport Canada website for the full official details.


When first announced the SFOC Exemptions were promoted as an easing and simplification of the old SFOC process, which would reduce the workload on TC and make UAV usage easier to some operators.  The issue we discovered however is that the Exemptions have a number of requirements that must be met before they can be used.

The main item that most overlooked and that restricts the widespread use of the exemptions for many is the 5NM (9KM) restrictions from airports and built-up areas.

When you boil down the exemptions they are really for very specific and limited use, targeted at remote rural areas for farming, forestry, and mining type operations.  For most operators the restrictions will be far too limiting for them to be used for commercial work, and you will need to file for an SFOC as had been done in the past.


So for those that can’t meet the limited exemptions for use you are left with filing an SFOC as has been done in the past.  The issue however is that the SFOC process has changed.

Under the new SFOC process there are basically two application types that will apply to the majority of commercial operators:

  • Compliant Operator Application
  • Restricted Operator Application – Simplified Application

Compliant Operator Application

The complaint operator process is the primary one that TC wants everyone to work towards and offers the most flexibility in terms of when and where you can operate. The issue however is the amount of paperwork, processes, and requirements that are needed for this level of application.  To be a Compliant Operator you need to have Compliant Pilots and Complaint UAVs, each of which has a list of its own specific requirements.

  • Manuals must be created for all operations and procedural tasks.
  • Training must be tracked and managed for all personnel.
  • Pilots must have a fullsacle license or have passed a ground school, and a valid medical.
  • UAVs must meet specific design standards, have operational and maintenance manuals, and be signed off by the manufacturer that it is airworthy and meets all design requirements.

Restricted Operator Application – Simplified Application

Restricted applications basically include anything that falls outside of the Complaint Operator Application, and are similar in many respects to the previous SFOC process that existed before the update in November.

The simplified application most closely mirrors the prior process used by most commercial UAV operators.  However, unlike the old process, the new Simplified Application has much tighter restrictions.  The main item that will impact commercial operators is that this can only be used for uncontrolled airspace. To fly in controlled zones it appears the only means possible is via the Compliant Operator Application. It is also limited to 300 feet AGL maximum altitude.

As a result of the restrictions it will limit the effective use for many operators, although it may met the needs of some and will be the best/simplest path forward.

EDIT Dec 30 2014:
We have been informed today by TC that you CANNOT apply with multiple UAVs under the new RESTRICTED OPERATOR – SIMPLIFIED APPLICATION PROCESS. To have more than one aircraft you need to use RESTRICTED OPERATOR – COMPLEX APPLICATION PROCESS.

…for multiple makes and models under one application you need to submit an application that meets the SUR 623-001V2 Section 10.0 RESTRICTED OPERATOR – COMPLEX APPLICATION PROCESS criteria.

UAV SFOC Exemptions “For Dummies”

tc-exemptionOver the last number of weeks since Transport Canada’s (TC) first announcement of the new UAV exemptions we have seen a number of people stating things that were less than accurate, based on how they interpreted the exemptions.  Much of this comes from how they were rolled out, with the details being left to last and often not noted in full.

If you merely review the Infographic it would seem to indicate that commercial use under 2kg is fairly open and free for anyone and 2-25kg is much this same with the addition of needing to submit a form stating a summary of where and when the operation is to take place.

The devil in the details however is this small part of the Infographic – you must meet the exemption requirements. Those requirements are spelled out in simple form on the second page of the Infographic, but the full specifics are in the Advisory Circular (AC) No. 600-004.  You need to reference this publication in order to see the full specifics of the exemption requirements. The flowchart and related press releases on the topic do not go into the full details. (more…)