Rules and Regulations

Remote-controlled aerial systems (drones) fall under different rules and regulations depending on where they are to be operated, and for what purpose. These systems are often classified as either UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), or more commonly now as RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems).


There are two ways to fly a drone or UAV in Canada for commercial purposes. The first is to operate under an SFOC (Special Flight Operating Certificate), which must be obtained from Transport Canada. TC has divided the country into five different regions: Atlantic, Quebec, Ontario, Prairies and the North, and the Pacific – each with its own regional representative who handles the SFOC applications. Therefore, which regional office a submission is made to depends completely on where in Canada the filming is to take place. If a film shoot is spread throughout the country, an SFOC must be acquired in each regional office independently. We are proud to say that we at SkyMotion Video do hold SFOC permits for every region in the country. This allows us to offer much quicker processing turnarounds of about 48 hours, as opposed to 20 business days needed by those operators without a blanket permit.

What YOU need to know

Even with permission to operate in both controlled and uncontrolled airspace, an SFOC does come with conditions which can affect production. These include:

  • When the aircraft is in flight, a safety perimeter of 100′ horizontal distance must be maintained between the drone and any persons not involved in the operation (general public). This means that whenever the drone is airborne, that personnel need to be in place to ensure the general public cannot enter an area closer than 100′ of lateral distance to where the drone is flying. This includes personnel at doorways of buildings which enter the space, and can include traffic control for any roads within the safety perimeter. Obviously this becomes more complex in dense urban environments. As the flight path grows, so too does the safety perimeter. It is the responsibility of our clients to ensure that enough personnel or PDOs (Paid Duty Officers) are made available in these situations. This SFOC condition applies to all drones no matter how small they are.
  • NAV Canada  is the company that owns and operates Canada’s civil air navigation service (ANS). As such, they are the ones we communicate with prior to a drone operation. For the Ontario Region, NAV Canada has in place some ‘no-fly’ zones for areas in very close proximity to the large aerodromes. Different aerodromes have different no-fly zone sizes. SkyMotion Video will require exact locations where aerial filming is to take place in order to ensure that these ‘no-fly’ zones are respected. SkyMotion Video takes care of communications with NAV Canada, and the filing of NOTAMs (Notice to Airmen).
  • We are required to have written permission from the property owner or administrator for the property we will be taking off from and landing on. We can provide a simple form to our clients for this purpose.
  • By law, all UAV flights must only be operated within unaided visual line-of-sight of the human pilot.

The second way to operate a drone or UAV for commercial purposes is under the two “exemptions” published by Transport Canada. Details regarding these exemptions can be found here: Transport Canada – Flying an Unmanned Aircraft

Why have an SFOC? With an SFOC, we can operate quicker. Operating under the exemptions, still requires location and flight plan details to be sent in writing to Transport Canada before the operation. Also, if a change is made to the flight plan, the operator is required to notify the Minister within 10 working days. While operations taking place under the exemption are limited to class ‘G’ airspace, with an SFOC we can operate in controlled airspace and within built-up areas. Lastly, flying under an exemption will require a safety perimeter of 300′ lateral distance between the drone and any persons not involved in the operation, while an SFOC reduces this restriction to 100′.

Transport Canada’s regulations continue to evolve, and new regulations are in the works. In July 2015, SkyMotion Video was invited by CARAC (Canadian Aviation Regulation Advisory Council) to attend a round table discussion with industry leaders regarding the latest regulation developments, and to offer input as an industry stakeholder. For more information on the development of drone regulations in Canada, please visit CARAC Activity Details on the Transport Canada website.