Over the last few years we have seen a rapid increase in the adoption and use of UAVs in Canada’s airspace.

And with that, there has been plenty of media coverage (and YouTube videos!) of mishaps and close calls with drones hitting buildings, dropping from the sky and hitting people and coming too close to airplanes for comfort. Transport Canada has been working with leading industry members to find solutions that will allow for the adoption of drones, enable entrepreneurs to create businesses with them and maintain the safety and security of the public and other airspace users.

Their solution has been to introduce updated rules which came into action on December 21, 2016. There new rules have opened up the playing field for dronepreneurs while adding extra conditions that the operators must comply with before they can fly under the Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) exemption.

Here are the 5 tops changes you should know.

1. Revised Weight Categories

Transport Canada has changed the weight categories to the following:

    • 1kg or less
    • Above 1 kg and up to 25kg (with an operating speed restriction of 87 knots or less)

Take note that the new weights are the maximum take-off weight (MTOW) which includes the payload and batteries in addition to the UAV. Any unmanned aircraft over 25kg will fall under different clearance guidelines than what will be discussed in this article.

2. New Exemption Reporting Requirements

Before the new rules came into place, you only needed to notify Transport Canada of your SFOC exemption flight if you were flying a UAV weighing above 2kg and up to 25kg. Well, not so anymore.

If you are flying under the exemption rules you need to notify Transport Canada by using the online form list here

In addition to the notification, which will generate a confirmation slip, you must have the following on hand when flying:

    • Your exemption confirmation
    • Proof of insurance
    • Contact information of the UAV operator
    • A copy of the UAV system operating limits
    • Evidence that the Pilot is adequately trained for the flight at hand.

Also, you will need to still coordinate with Air Traffic Services, Local Authorities, landowners and other affected person(s) of your flight.

Any changes to the notification must be communicated to the Minister and within 10 days upon the permanent cessation of UAV system operations.

3. New Distance Rules

As before, you must respect a minimum lateral flight distance from any buildings, animals, people (including bystanders and or flight spectators), vehicles, vessels, and structures depending on the weight of your drone, as follows:

    • 1kg or less: Minimum lateral distance of 100 feet
    • 1kg – 25 Kg: Minimum lateral distance of 500 feet

Note that the above do not apply if the person is part of the UAV operations crew or if the building, structure, vehicle, vessel or animal is the subject to aerial work (for example, aerial surveys, photography or videography).

Built-Up Areas

The minimum distances outlined above do not apply to “built-up areas”. The SFOC exemption rules state if your UAV has a MTOW of 1 kg or less, you are not allowed to fly over or within a built-up area. If your UAV weighs 1 kg – 25 kg, you must fly your UAV at least 3 nautical miles from a built-up area. As such, if you plan to fly in an urban area or city centre, for example, you require an SFOC before you can operate your UAV.

At all times and in each weight category you must maintain a Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) with your drone during flight and you cannot use First Person View (FPV) under the exemption. In addition to VLOS operation, the pilot must maintain a minimum distance from the UAV:

    • 1kg or less: Minimum distance between the pilot and UAV is no further than ¼ nm
    • 1kg – 25 Kg: Minimum distance between the pilot and UAV is no further than ½ nm


4. New No Drone Zones

Previously, Transport Canada rules stipulated that no drone can be flown within 5 nautical miles of an airport or aerodrome. The new rule are more specific with respect to types of aerodromes. Under the SFOC exemptions, you cannot fly a drone within:

    • 5nm of an airport or a water aerodrome for planes
    • 3nm from an heliport or a water aerodrome for helicopters (a list of which can be purchased here)

And all this to say that you must fly in a class G airspace under the exemption.

5. New “Fit-for-Flight” Requirements

As you may have guessed, the meaning of “fit for flight” depends on the weight classification of your UAV and it is the operator’s responsibility to prove that it is fit for flight.

If your UAV is 1 kg or less, you will need to make sure to document the maintenance so you can prove that components, software and hardware are in proper functioning order. Since most manufacturers don’t provide support beyond the data you receive at purchase, you may need to work with an aviation professional to meet this requirement.

If your UAV is 1kg – 25kg, more work is required. In addition to guaranteeing that the UAV is fit for flight, prior to take-off, you will need to demonstrate that there is a means of:

    • Controlling the flight of the UAV
    • Monitoring the UAV systems
    • Navigation
    • Communicating, as required under CAR (depending on your flight this could mean ATC/ATS provider, local authorities, by standers, property owner, ground crew etc.)
    • Mitigating the risk of loss of control of the UAV
    • Detecting hazardous environmental flight conditions
    • Sensing and avoiding other aircraft
    • Avoiding flight into obstacles and terrain
    • Remaining clear of clouds.
    • Complete any airworthiness directives, or equivalent, issued by the manufacturer.
    • Ensure that all maintenance, servicing and disassembly/assembly of a UAV system and associated components are performed in accordance with the procedures described in the manufacturer’s specifications.

In addition, when you do your initial site inspection and prior to your flight, you will need to ensure that the UAV will not become susceptible to radio interference (see this link for information on how:


As you can see, Transport Canada is trying to reduce the need for getting an SFOC while keeping the safety of others in mind. Keeping records, checklist and implementing a good SOP in your organization will help with streamlining your operation and documentation for applications with Transport Canada.

Post author

Sean Smith, a forward thinking challenge oriented tech entrepreneur excellent at transforming innovative ideas and concepts, and developing them into sustainable companies. Having served in senior level leadership positions at both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations, including as the Head of QuEST's Canadian Business Unit and as a Board Member for organizations focused on technology and welfare. Founder of Smith Management (Business Management Consulting) and VOZWIN (UAV Technology) in 2015, an awarding winning executive (2014 Wings Magazine Top 20 Under 40 Award Recipient), a recognized stakeholder by Transport Canada for UAV related items, and a founding member of the ENSCO Canadian Division, ENSCO's first international subsidiary (ENSCO Avionics Canada Inc.). Experienced with site start-up, lean operation, finance, technical and management leadership for projects spanning full life-cycle engineering development, growth strategy and business planning. Sean had been with ENSCO for over 10 years. He began his career at ENSCO in 2006 as a systems analyst and subsequently occupied positions of increasing responsibility in engineering and operations. He was the manager of Canadian operations from 2007 to 2011 before taking on the responsibilities as Director. During his tenure at ENSCO, he has been a key collaborator in the setup, development, strategic planning, marketing and growth of the Canadian subsidiary. Sean earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering with a specialization in thermodynamics, fluid dynamics and propulsion systems in 2005 from Concordia University. In his final year of his undergraduate program, he was awarded with the Richard M.H. Cheng Award by the University for his unique unmanned aerial vehicle design.

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