Applying for Special Flight Operation Certificate (SFOC) in Canada

In Canada, flight operations of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV or simply called a drone) are regulated by Transport Canada or TC. If you are flying anything for commercial purposes, including a RC quadcopter, hexacopter, octacopter or a plane, then regardless of its size and cost, it is considered a UAV which must follow the same guidelines of TC which would apply to a large scale traditional style commercial UAV. Otherwise you’d be violating law and if caught, will be heavily fined ($5,000 to $25,000) and your UAV will be confiscated.

Each commercial flight of a UAV must be accompanied by a document called SFOC or Special Flight Operation Certificate and a liability insurance for the type of damage this operation could cause.

Application for SFOC requires some work. The details are all online on the TC website. You can also call the TC office for your province and ask them to email you the PDF of these requirements.


In my case I called a few phone numbers before I was connected to the Toronto office and a very friendly TC inspector, Mr. Laird, briefly guided me on the procedure to get a SFOC and emailed me the required details. The main document which I received was a 74 page document. I had gone over it already online, but read its PDF again, 3 times, to make sure I knew all the details to successfully apply for a SFOC.

It is important that your make a good application for SFOC. All the details for what is required in this application are in that document. It is a very easy application, but requires you to take it seriously, and spend the time it requires to write it properly and thoughtfully. Your fist application will take, probably two hours to write, but subsequent applications will be mostly copy and paste from the first application.

Once the application is submitted online to the email address provided, it’ll take a month before someone will get back on it. In my case, I got reply from a the same good Inspector, Mr. Laird. He was very pleased with the quality of my application, and generously gave me one whole month of SFOC for the area I had requested it for. If your application is poorly written, or missing the required details, you’ll be writing it again, and waiting another month before TC could get back to you. So save your months and write a good application the very first time.

As you’ll be flying frequently and getting your SFOCs often, you’ll build a credibility with TC. Eventually you’ll get your SFOCs in lesser time, and even get a blanket SFOC to fly anywhere in your province. However this would not mean that you won’t need required permissions from the property owners over which you’ll be flying. This means if you are flying commercially over city property, you’d need permission from the city, for which in turn you’d need proper liability insurance coverage as well.

Overall, the process of commercial drone flights is not that straight forward, but not as difficult either as some people make it look like. These procedures are made for our own security reasons and we should respect them.

Some people ask, why there is no restriction when flying as a hobby, though its the same UAV and its same application. And why are their restrictions when flying the same UAV commercially.

Since I am flying my UAV for a while now, I can see that there IS a significant difference. A commercial activity makes a person think much differently than a hobby activity. A hobby UAV is usually is a limited time activity, and not much money is spent on expensive items like UAV, when one is doing it only as a hobby. So flying a hobby item once in a while for commercial purposes mean both the UAV and its pilot are unprepared and unsafe for the public safety, even if they think otehrwise. And thanks to easy-to-fly multi-rotor drones which are easily available nowadays, there are enough hobby drones dropping from the skies lately. They are in the news very often. If these hobby people are allowed to fly commercially, we’ll be seeing even more accidents, resulting in people getting injured, traffic accidents ¬†and property damages, etc.

Commercial activity makes a drone flier more serious in what he is doing (I didn’t say ‘she’ because I yet have to see a ‘she’ flying one). While going through the commercial permits, licenses etc. one becomes more accustomed to safety and proper flight procedures, whether it is related to his drone, drone flight or to the spectators and his subjects. This also means spending more money on the UAV itself to make it safer, which as a hobbyist one would rarely do.

One can argue on the above, and in the Internet age many people love to needlessly argue anyways, but the fact remains, you have to go through a predefined procedure to fly your UAV commercially, so instead of wasting time in arguing or opposing it, save time and just start filing for your SFOCs.

One Response to “Applying for Special Flight Operation Certificate (SFOC) in Canada”
  1. Jay says:

    Zeeshan A Zakaria,
    it was very informative i must thank you for this info. i have questions i am planning to do business buy some drone and provide services to the former or geographical photography etc. not yet decided. If i want to get the SFOC training do you know any center where i can get it and who can help me to get SFOC certification.
    once i will get that then i will go for the investment and can start business.
    if you have this info. pls let me know i am leaving my contact no in case you want to talk to me.

    289 700 8876

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