Applying for a Special Flight Operations Certificate (current rules)
A Special Flight Operations Certificate tells you how and where you may fly your drone, legally called an unmanned air vehicle (UAV).
On this page
- Who must apply
- Work or research
- Foreign operators
- What you need to know before you start
- How to apply
- Qualifying for a Standing Special Flight Operations Certificate
- Compliant operator applicants
Who must apply
You must apply for a Special Flight Operations Certificate if you meet any of these 3 conditions:
- Your drone, which you fly only for fun, weighs more than 35 kg
- Your drone, which you fly for work or research, weighs more than 25 kg
- You aren’t able to comply with the exemption conditions
Still not sure? Answer some simple questions on the Getting permission to fly your drone page.
Work or research
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
- 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 for work.
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.
Extra rules apply if you're a foreign operator (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
We’ve developed a new standardized Special Flight Operations Certificate application form to make applying for a certificate easier. It's free to apply.
To learn the full requirements for the certificate, consult these sections of the Canadian Aviation Regulations:
If you read this page and still have questions, contact your Civil Aviation regional office.
How to apply
To apply for a certificate:
- Complete mandatory training through a drone flight school
- Complete an Application for a Special Flight Operations Certificate form [PDF, 1.2 MB] and gather the documentation specified in the application
- Have a track record of safe flying? Learn about qualifying for a Standing Special Flight Operations Certificate
- Send the form and documents to the Civil Aviation regional office in the region where you intend to fly your UAV.
Your application must contain all information required in the instruction for reviewing and processing a Special Flight Operations Certificate application (UAV Staff Instruction), including:
- your contact information
- a description of how, when and where you plan to use your UAV
- a detailed plan that explains how you'll 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.
We keep all issued certificates on file, which allows us to see an applicant’s history. There’s no set number of regular certificates you must get before applying for a standing certificate. But we won’t issue you a standing certificate if you haven’t applied for and received a regular certificate in the past. Your eligibility depends on factors like:
- pilot qualifications and experience
- knowledge of relevant regulations and Canadian airspace
- your ability to identify and mitigate risks
For more information, read the:
- UAV Staff Instruction
- guidance notes in the Special Flight Operations Certificate application form
You will also need to read Knowledge Requirements for Pilots of Unmanned Air Vehicle Systems.
If you still have questions, contact the Civil Aviation regional office in the area where you operate your UAV.
Compliant operator applicants
To gain additional privileges, you may become a “compliant operator” if you:
- are an experienced UAV operator
- want to conduct beyond visual line-of-sight UAV operations
To do so, you must:
- operate a compliant UAV
- have appropriately trained pilots
- meet specific operator requirements
If you wish to apply for a Compliant UAV Operator Special Flight Operations Certificate, consult the list of compliant drones to see if your UAVs qualify. We’ll update this list as more UAVs become compliant.
We include UAV models on this list when we receive a declaration of compliance from the manufacturer. The declaration must say that a UAV meets the small UAV design standard in Appendix C of the UAV Staff Instruction.
For more information on the compliant UAV operator program, refer to the UAV Staff Instruction.
Guides and help
- Application for a Special Flight Operations Certificate [PDF, 1.2 MB]
- Instruction for reviewing and processing a Special Flight Operations Certificate application
- List of compliant drones
- Qualify for an exemption to fly a drone
Related services and information
- Knowledge Requirements for Pilots of Unmanned Air Vehicle Systems
- Guidance Material for Operating Unmanned Air Vehicle Systems Under an Exemption (Advisory Circular 600-004)