Applying for a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC)

From Transport Canada

A Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) provides an approval to operate unmanned air vehicle (UAV) (non-recreational drone) and tells you how and where you may fly. Learn whether you need an SFOC and how to apply for one on this page.

Do you need an SFOC?

Whether you need to apply for an SFOC depends on:

  • why you are flying (for any type of work or research, or for fun) and
  • how much your aircraft weighs.

If your aircraft weighs 35 kg or less and is used only for the fun of flying, it is considered to be a model aircraft (recreational drone) and you do not need permission from Transport Canada. However, you are required to follow the Interim Order regarding the use of model aircraft.

If you are flying for anything other than for fun, we consider that you are flying for work or research and that you are flying a UAV (non-recreational drone). Examples of the type of work that may be conducted using a UAV include, but are not limited to:

  • survey,
  • agricultural,
  • inspections,
  • academic research,
  • first responders, and
  • aerial photography and videography (including for real estate).

Flying a UAV for payment or any other benefit or gain is also considered flying for work/non-recreational purposed.

To use a UAV for any kind of work or research, you must in most cases hold an SFOC. This applies to all UAVs no matter how much they weigh. The only exception to the requirement for an SFOC is if you intend to operate a UAV under one of the Transport Canada UAV exemptions.

What you need to know before you start

Before you apply for an SFOC, check this infographic to find out whether you need permission to fly your UAV.

Transport Canada has developed a new standardized SFOC application form to make applying for an SFOC easier. Applying for an SFOC is free. If you still have questions after reading How to apply (below), contact the nearest Transport Canada Civil Aviation Regional Office.

To learn about SFOC requirements, refer to the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs) 602.41 (Unmanned Air Vehicles) and 602.45 (Model Aircraft).

How to apply

Prior to applying for an SFOC, UAV Operators are expected to review and understand the requirements to operate a UAV in Canada by reviewing the UAV Staff Instruction found at the following link:
Send the completed SFOC application form and the documentation specified in the application to the Transport Canada Civil Aviation Regional Office in the region where you intend to fly your UAV.

NOTE: Due to the high volume of applications, if your application is incomplete or if you do not provide all required supporting documents with your application it will be returned to you and you will be required to reapply. This may result in the application being moved to the end of the queue.

Qualifying for a standing SFOC

If you have a proven track record of safe operations, you may qualify for a standing, or "blanket" SFOC, which may permit operations over greater geographic areas and for greater validity periods, eliminating the requirement to apply for an SFOC before each flight.

Transport Canada keeps all issued SFOCs on file. This allows TC to view an applicant's history before issuing a standing SFOC. There is no set number of SFOCs you must have applied for before you can apply for a standing SFOC as your eligibility depends on various factors. That being said, a standing SFOC will not be issued to initial applicants. Contact the nearest Transport Canada Civil Aviation Regional Office for more information.


Compliant Operator Applicants

Experienced UAV Operators may gain additional privileges by becoming Compliant UAV Operators. To become a Compliant UAV Operator you must operate a Compliant UAV, have appropriately trained pilots and meet specific operator requirements.

UAV operators who wish to apply for a Compliant UAV Operator SFOC can consult Transport Canada's list of compliant unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) to determine if their UAVs qualify. This list will be updated as more UAVs become compliant. Transport Canada includes UAV models on this list once we receive a Declaration of Compliance from the UAV manufacturer stating that their UAV meets the Small UAV design standard specified in Appendix C the UAV Staff Instruction.

It should also be noted that becoming a Compliant UAV Operator is a prerequisite for any Operator wishing to conduct beyond visual line-of-sight operations. For more information on the Compliant UAV Operator program please refer to the UAV Staff Instruction.

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