The first mass market drones hit the shelves in 2010, and since then, manufacturers have been battling it out in a virtual arms race, working to offer new and more advanced features and produce machines so intuitive, anyone can fly them. Drones today are lighter and affordable, and can perform virtually any type of aerial operation at the push of a button. Drones are now being used for endless purposes, from simple fun by hobbyist all the way to search and rescue and police investigations. And the best part is, it’s just getting started.

The global Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), or drone, industry is poised to become a US $5.59 Billion industry by 2020, and the endless array of opportunities has attracted many Canadian drone aficionados looking to turn their passion into a revenue stream.

From video and production houses, news stations, security firms, retailers and delivery companies, toy makers, meteorology, search and rescue, urban planning, agriculture, surveying, and even police and military, there’s barely an industry that won’t be transformed by the arrival of drones. But while the potential is virtually limitless, so are the risks.

Canada Drone Scandals

Since 2010, Transport Canada has investigated some 50 incidents involving unmanned aircraft In Canada. In May of this year, fighter jets were dispatched to the Ottawa airport after planes reported a drone flying too close to the runway. Just weeks later a similar incident occurred in Winnipeg when a drone was seen flying just 25 m from a landing plane. In Quebec, a woman was injured when a drone flying overhead plummeted from above and struck her. And how about this one: In December 2015 a drone was flown over a prison, used to deliver a handgun to an inmate.

There’s only one way to capitalize on the opportunity while minimizing risk, and that’s to cover your bases and play by the rules from the start.

Transport Canada’s Rules

Transport Canada has set out a set of preliminary regulations drone operators must follow. Fail to follow the rules and it cost you up to $25,000 in fines and/or jail time, not to mention put lives at risk. The rules are actually quite complex, and if you’re launching a drone enterprise, we recommend consulting with a professional. To offer you some guidelines, the following is a summary of some of the regulations which apply to those flying drones for commercial gain. Note that hobbyist are restricted and should know what they need to do in order to fly under the rules and regulations before taking off. Transport Canada has outlined 2 high-level sets of criteria drone operators and a set of rules for each.

The SFOC Exemption

Under the SFOC exemption, if you meet certain criteria, you do not require a Special Operations Flight Certificate (SFOC) from Transport Canada:
The SFOC Exemption applies if the following main criteria apply (though this list is not exhaustive)


  • Your UAV weighs below 25 kg
  • Your drone is not being used for commercial purposes

Under this exemption, the following rules apply to you and your operation:


  • You must carry liability insurance coverage of $100,000
  • You must operate UAV within visual line of site
  • The pilot must have adequate training on UAV system and be qualified for the area and type of operation
  • The UAV must be operated at a minimum lateral distance of 100 feet for UAVs under 2 Kg and 500 lateral feet for UAVs more than 2kg and up to and including 25 Kg MTOW from any buildings, animals, people, vehicles, vessels or structures
  • You must have consent from property owner to take-off property
  • The operation of UAV must be kept at or below 90 meters (300 feet) above ground levels
  • The UAV and all its systems must be in excellent working condition

Under this exemption, you must also fill out the Notification form – exemption for UAVs from 2 kg up to and including 25 kg.

Drone Do Nots and No Drone Zones

The following rules apply to you, unless you have special permission as outlined in your SFOC. Drones cannot be flown:


  • Higher than 90 metres
  • Within 150 metres of people, animals, buildings, structures or vehicles
  • Within 9 km of airports, heliports, aerodromes, or built-up areas such as a city centre
  • Within 9 km of forest fires
  • Over highways, bridges, busy streets, populated areas or crowds
  • In or over parks, military bases, prisons, or in restricted airspace

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Non-Exemption: SFOC Required

If your operation meets the following criteria, you require an SFOC:


  • If you don’t meet the non-exemption requirements for your operation, or;
  • You are flying in a built up area, or;
  • You are flying within 9 km from an aerodrome, or;
  • You are flying in proximity of people, or;
  • If your UAV weighs more that 25kg.

Under this category, the following rules apply:


  • You must carry liability insurance coverage of $100,000
  • You must operate UAV by unaided visual references (For example, you cannot use VR goggles to fly your drone) unless given permission under an SFOC
  • The pilot must have adequate training on UAV system and be qualified for the area and type of operation
  • A flight plan must be included in the application for the SFOC
  • The UAV must be operated under the conditions set in the approved SFOC
  • An operational safety plan and security plan will be required as part of the SFOC application
  • The UAV and all its systems must be in excellent working condition


Obtaining An SFOC

To obtain a Special Operations Flight Certificate (SOFC), you must send a detailed application to the Transport Canada Civil Aviation Regional Office in the region where you intend to fly. Your application must contain:


  • Your contact information
  • A description on how, when, and where you plan to use your UAV
  • A detailed plan that explains how you will deal with the safety risks

Since there are stringent rules and criteria, you may want to hire an aviation professional to assist you.

New Rules on the Way

With the drone industry expanding at rapid pace, incidents piling up, aviation professionals and the public like worried about potential risks and the current exemptions expire on December 21, Transport Canada has new rules on the way. The new regulations are expected to set out “flight rules, clarify how drones should be marked and registered, and what licensing and training drone operators should require. We may soon see the establishment of categories of drones, a more stringent registration process for operators and identification requirements such as serial numbers so that drones can easily be traced back to their owners.

When the rules are finalized, we’ll be sure to post an update right here on the Legal Logik blog.

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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