Applying for a Special Flight Operations Certificate

From Transport Canada

A Special Flight Operations Certificate tells you how and where you may fly your drone, legally called an unmanned air vehicle (UAV).

Who must apply

Whether you need a Special Flight Operations Certificate depends on:

  • why you are flying (for work or research, or for fun)
  • how much your aircraft weighs

If you fly a drone for anything other than fun, we consider the drone a UAV that is being used for work or research. Examples include:

  • survey work
  • agricultural work
  • inspections
  • academic research
  • police work
  • aerial photography and videography, including for real estate

If you get payment or other commercial benefits for using your UAV, your flying is considered non-recreational.

To use a UAV for work or research, you usually must have a Special Flight Operations Certificate. This applies to all UAVs no matter how much they weigh.

If your drone is used for fun only and weighs 35 kg or less, you do not need permission. However, you are still responsible for flying your drone safely and legally. If your drone weighs over 35 kg and you are using it for fun, you need a Special Flight Operations Certificate.

Foreign operators

Extra rules apply if you are a foreign operator (if you are not Canadian and you fly in Canadian airspace). You must have an approved certificate to fly a drone for work or research.

You must already be allowed to use the drone for the same purpose in your home country. Include your country’s approval or authorization with your application for the certificate.

What you need to know before you start

Before applying for a Special Flight Operations Certificate, check this infographic to find out whether you need permission to fly.

There is no standard form or fee for a Special Flight Operations Certificate. If you read How to apply and still have questions, contact your Civil Aviation regional office.

To learn the full requirements for the certificate, see these sections of the Canadian Aviation Regulations:

How to apply

Apply to the Civil Aviation regional office in the region where you will be flying your UAV. Your application must contain all information required in the instruction for reviewing and processing a Special Flight Operations Certificate application, including:

  • your contact information
  • a description of how, when and where you plan to use your UAV
  • a detailed plan that explains how you will deal with safety risks

We process applications on a “first-come-first-served” basis and aim to process them within 20 working days.

However, apply as early as possible before you plan to use your UAV. Your application may take longer to process if it is missing information or if we receive a large number of applications.

Qualifying for a standing Special Flight Operations Certificate

If you show a track record of safe flying, you may qualify for a Standing Special Flight Operations Certificate (“blanket SFOC”).

We keep all issued certificates on file, allowing us to see an applicant’s history. There is no set number of regular certificates you must get before applying for a standing certificate. Your eligibility depends on various factors.

For more information, contact the Civil Aviation regional office in the area where you operate your UAV.

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