transport canada

Transport Canada PNR FAQ

As part of the recently released new SFOC templates and procedures for the PNR region, some FAQs were included as part of the documentation.  These are presented here for easier access and clarity as they provide useful insight into a number of common concerns and questions.

QUESTION          How do I contact Transport Canada for information on UAV’s

ANSWER              Several methods of obtaining information are available.  You may look for information on the Transport Canada Website at if this site does not answer your questions; contact the Prairie Northern Region UAV email at


QUESTION          What area is covered by PNR?

ANSWER              Prairie Northern Region covers operations within Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Nunavut, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories.  Inquiries regarding operations in all other regions should be directed to those regional offices directly.


QUESTION          What is an SFOC and do I need one?

ANSWER              An SFOC is a Special Flight Operations Certificate.  All non-recreational UAV operations require an SFOC or a valid exemption to operate.  Do not confuse non-commercial with recreational.  Recreational use is use for the purpose of personal enjoyment or as a hobby.  If you derive any benefit other than personal enjoyment from the operation of a UAV, you require an SFOC or an Exemption.  Use of a UAV for training for a business venture is not recreational.  If you are a photographer by trade and you give free pictures away that you have taken from a UAV, there is potential benefit to your business in terms of promotion and therefore it is non-recreation.  These examples are not all inclusive.


QUESTION          I want to start an aerial photography business using my UAV.  What are the requirements to obtain an SFOC?

ANSWER              To operate safely you first need to educate yourself about UAV Operation.  The Canadian Air Regulations govern the operation of UAV’s in Canada.  These regulations are designed to ensure public safety and are complex.  The first recommended step is to educate yourself.  Several companies throughout Canada offer UAV specific training.  We recommend you take one or more of the courses available.  Unmanned Systems Canada maintains a list of education providers within Canada on their website at . Transport Canada does not endorse nor certify any of the course providers listed, but we do believe that any education on this subject is better than none at all.  Your safety and that of the general public is paramount.  The next step is to apply for an SFOC or operate under one of the two exemptions published on the Transport Canada website.


QUESTION          How long does it take for my application to result in issuance of an SFOC?

ANSWER              Transport Canada PNR region strives to issue an SFOC within 20 days of receipt of a completed application.  A completed application is one which provides all the information that an inspector requires to deem your operation to be safe and in accordance with SI 623-001. Processing times are variable dependant on the number of applications in the queue and the quality of information provided.  Typically, once an inspector begins reviewing your application (s)he will probably contact you for clarification or to request more information.  The speed with which your application progresses is dependent on the information you provide and the speed with which this is done.  Delays in submitting requested information will result in delays in issuance of an SFOC.


QUESTION          What is an EXEMPTION?

ANSWER              An exemption is a document published by Transport Canada exempting UAV Operators from the requirement to obtain an SFOC for non-recreational operations.  There are currently two exemptions available regarding UAV operations.  These may be found at .  Non-recreational operators may operate under the applicable exemptions provided they are able to comply with every condition contained without exception.  All of the terms in the documents must be understood and complied with.


QUESTION          How do I report suspected illegal UAV activity?

ANSWER              If you feel the activity is posing a threat to safety, call your local law enforcement agency immediately.  If the complaint is more of a general matter that needs to be investigated, use the Civil Aviation Issues Reporting System (CAIRS) which can be found at


QUESTION          Can I use the UAV exemptions if I currently hold an SFOC?

ANSWER              Yes.  SFOC holders are welcome to use the exemptions where they apply.  You are bound by whichever of the documents you are using in the conduct of each particular operation.


QUESTION          What is an AERODROME?

ANSWER              “aerodrome” – means any area of land, water (including the frozen surface thereof+) or other supporting surface used, designed, prepared, equipped or set apart for use either in whole or in part for the arrival, departure, movement or servicing of aircraft and includes any buildings, installations and equipment situated thereon or associated therewith.


QUESTION          What is considered to be a “BUILT-UP AREA”

ANSWER              A built-up area is defined by Webster’s dictionary as “having many buildings in a small area”.  Transport Canada does not provide a definition of a built-up area within the CARs, but in the exemption ( ) regarding UAV operations near built-up areas, the following guidance is given: “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.”


QUESTION          What is Visual Line of Sight (VLOS)?

ANSWER              Visual line-of-sight (VLOS) – means unaided (corrective lenses and/or sunglasses exempted) visual contact with the UAV sufficient to be able to maintain operational control of the aircraft, know its location, and be able to scan the airspace in which it is operating to decisively see and avoid other air traffic or objects.


QUESTION          If operating under an exemption, must I notify the Minister for every flight?

ANSWER              You do not have to notify the Minister for every flight, as long as the geographical location, which you have provided to the Minister (notified the Minister) that you are operating in remains the same and the UAS remains the same.

Transport Canada Aviation Enforcement Policy

With the recent discussions around enforcement of UAV regulations we reached out to our contacts at Transport Canada for clarification around the process in place for dealing with issues that are presented to them on possible violations.  The following provides a summary of the feedback we received.

The following page gives an overview of the TC enforcement policy: About Aviation Enforcement

This policy outlines the mandate and objective of TC’s Aviation Enforcement branch. For many UAV occurrences the following will likely be used:

If the violation is minor in nature and inadvertent, or is a safety related violation where there is no direct flight safety hazard, the inspector may simply counsel the individual orally.  When a TC inspector observes or is apprised of a possible violation for which Oral Counseling is inappropriate, the inspector should completes a Detection Notice form as the first step in the initial enforcement process, and forward the Detection Notice to the respective Regional Aviation Enforcement Office. The Regional Manager of Aviation Enforcement (RMAE) will review all reports and establish priorities for initiating a comprehensive investigation into alleged violations, depending on the seriousness of the violation and its impact on aviation safety.

When a case gets forwarded to enforcement, an investigation takes place and appropriate action will be taken based on the evidence presented and whether the violation was minor and inadvertent or intentional.  This process from start to finish can take time.  If, based on a balance of probabilities, there is sufficient evidence to support intent and prove the violation, a monetary penalty may be applied.  In these cases, the information then becomes public and is posted on the aviation enforcement page.

For example, the following was posted under the non-corporate offenders list in March, 2015:

Quebec May 5, 2014 CAR 602.41
$650 monetary penalty
An individual operated an unmanned aviation vehicle (UAV) in a commercial manner without obtaining a special flight operations certificate or an air operator certificate. The individual was sanctioned with a $650.00 monetary penalty.

The Transport Canada offenders lists can be accessed here:

There can be many UAV enforcement files that are mid investigation, however the information will not become public until proven.  For those matters where oral counseling is used, they won’t become public.  So although there is a perception of lack of enforcement, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening.

With respect to matters that imminently affect aviation safety, the police may be the proper authorities to contact as they have the mandate and ability to respond immediately.

A police authority acting in the scope of their duties, may, pursuant to the Criminal Code of Canada arrest any person found in contravention of the Canadian Aviation Regulations or may arrest any person that has committed, is found committing or about to commit an offence under the Aeronautics Act or the Criminal Code of Canada.

Where appropriate, TC encourages law enforcement to collect evidence, investigate and contact Transport Canada.

We thank all involved for this information as it provides a great insight into the process and steps that take place when dealing with these issues.

UAV NPA Comments & Feedback

commentsThe following are our comments and feedback sent to Transport Canada as part of the Notice of Proposed Amendment – Unmanned Air Vehicles process.

Applicability to UAVs under 25kg and flown LOS makes sense and is in line with the context of the NPA and regulations to date. Main concern is ensuring it encompasses ALL usage of UAVs, both commercial and recreational which currently the regulations do not.

One area that should also be addresses is special use cases such as with first responders where proximity to accidents/fires/etc is part of the operational use.  Including this in the new regulations would make things easier for these groups to make use of UAVs as opposed to having to do an external process or special SFOC.

The issue of model aircraft vs UAVs and recreational vs commercial use is a tricky one but a current grey area/loophole that needs to be addressed.

Tying the classification to having a camera payload is not a good approach in that it links it to very specific technology.  As the industry and devices evolve it may not be a “camera” that becomes the payload of choice, some new sensors or other payloads may become the common application so we feel it is best to not link the regulations to such a specific element.

If the focus of the regulations are around safety then the regulations should apply regardless of how it is being used.  A recreational user is within the same airspace as a commercial user. As such most of the same regulations and guidelines should apply.

We would like to see a licensing/permitting system similar to small pleasure craft or automobile licensing where in ALL operators require to take some sort of test to ensure a minimum level of knowledge on safety and proper use.


The Need to Set an Example Part 2 – Before It’s Too Late

Back in May we wrote about the need to set an example of some of those choosing to break the UAV regulations and general common sense guidelines.  In only a few short months with better weather arriving the need for setting an example has increased as idiocy has also risen.

Today was a near miss in Vancouver. Last week in Kelowna a drone caused issues with efforts fighting a forest fire.  In the US there was another incident at JFK in the past week. In July one of the Flitelab team spoke with CBC locally to these concerns with a number of cases in Halifax of drones flying over people at local outdoor events. A few days ago this video started making the rounds out of St. John’s, again an uneducated drone user flying over a public event with no concern for the people he put at risk, or the fact this area is on the approach to the airport, and within a few yards of the jail.

The “pilot” showed his ignorance even further with this reply to a comment on potential system failures:

Its completely  modified to ensure there wont be any system failure , I’m glad you like it 🙂 its not like other cheap quads other people fly that fail, my drone is so upgraded it has never ever failed once 🙂

Thank you for your concern, I check everything 1000% before I fly, even a full battery, the imu sensors, compass, I make sure everything is 100%. its a drone for film making, cost a lot with the upgrades and all the wires n everything were upgraded to ensure nothing can possably go wrong. I use it a lot around Bowring park a lot

And I have flown in flocks of birds they are afraid of it, down in Bowring park my friend and a lot of other places.

As use grows with more and more systems coming to market so too will the issues.  It is only a matter of time before we have a major incident that leads to a knee jerk lock down of the entire use of drones, one that penalizes the good and bad.

We need to have Transport Canada step up to take control of this issue, and with assistance from regional policing agencies, start a program beyond just education but one of fines and penalties to help drive home the serious nature of these growing incidents.

As part of the NPA for the new regulations proposed for 2016 there is discussion on how to handle the recreational vs commercial use and how to work with local law enforcement, however time is of the essence.  With the increasing sale of these aircraft, now available at many big box stores, the potential for a major accident increases by the day.  I fear we will see something bad happen long before new regulations roll in late 2016.

We as an industry need to continue to educate people as best we can and report anyone that puts the public or the industry and risk via CAIRS, but there needs to be enforcement beyond mere warnings and only Transport Canada can take up the slack in that area.

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.