The Canadian drone industry continues to rapidly evolve, in
part, due to the impact of COVID-19. In January 2021,
Stellat'en First Nation, the village of Fraser Lake and the
University of British Columbia's Faculty of Medicine announced
a collaborative project to make medical services more accessible to
rural areas during the pandemic. The project saw quick success with
its first drone delivery performed by Drone Delivery Canada Corp.
(DDC), which flew four kilometers to deliver health-care supplies
from Fraser Lake to the nearby Indigenous community. During May
2022, DDC received a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC)
from Transport Canada for Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS)
commercial drone delivery for this project. Now that DDC has
obtained the SFOC, DDC will move to BVLOS operations within the
project, which ultimately allows the company to execute deliveries
at a longer range, more often, and without the need for the drone
to be within the pilot's visual line of sight throughout the
flight. The SFOC for BVLOS operations will contribute to the
continued success of the project and ultimately demonstrate the
commercial viability of drone logistics in the Canadian healthcare
This SFOC is the first of its kind to be issued in Canada but not the last. Transport Canada has recently granted a suite of SFOCs for BVLOS operations. Earlier this year, Canadian UAVs secured a Canada-wide SFOC for the operation of its fleet of small remotely pilots aircraft systems (RPAS) to perform BVLOS operations anywhere in Canada in Class G airspace and up to 400 feet above ground level.
SFOC as a Catalyst for Innovation
Transport Canada will issue an SFOC for RPAS operations outside
the rules for basic or advanced operations. For example, an SFOC is
required when operating close to a military airport, when the RPAS
weighs over 25 kilograms or for BVLOS operations. The purpose of
the SFOC is to accommodate unusual and novel operations while
allowing direct oversight by Transport Canada in the application
and approval process. The SFOC is limited to a specific purpose,
location and time. As operators envision new ways to utilize drones
for commercial purposes, such as flying multiples drones at once,
the SFOC balances the need to protect the public and our airspace
while opening the door innovation.
As the use of RPAS for long distance flights continues to be tested and proven in the Canadian market, more operators will be asking the question: How do I obtain a SFOC for BVLOS operations?
Regulatory Requirements to Obtain a SFOC for BVLOS Operations
A BVLOS operation may only be conducted in the following locations:
- Isolated areas, outside of concentrated population centers that are dispersed at a density of less than 0.1 persons per square kilometer;
- Populated areas, outside of concentrated population centers that are dispersed at a density of less than five persons per square kilometer;
- Atypical airspace such as Northern Domestic Airspace outside airports at or below 400 feet above ground level, restricted airspace with permission or 100 feet or less above any building or structure, less than 200 feet horizontally;
- Uncontrolled Airspace (Class G airspace) where no air traffic control service is provided; or
- More than five nautical miles from any aerodrome listed in the Canada Flight Supplement.
Prior to an SFOC for BVLOS operations being issued, the pilot
must have obtained either a Basic Operations or an Advanced
Operations certificated from Transport Canada. Then, the pilot must
complete an Application for a Special Flight Operations Certificate
(Application) and provide supporting documentation to Transport
Canada. It may take up to 30 business days for Transport Canada to
review and issue an SFOC for BVLOS for low-risk operations, and up
60 business days for complex operations.
RPAS are proving to be much more than a fancy way to have your pizza delivered. BVLOS operations can offer transportation solutions to reduce human risk in hazardous situations, perform search and rescue missions, enhance data collection and even deliver lifesaving medicine in a more timely and cost-efficient manner. When considering the rapid evolution of drone uses and regulatory frameworks, Buzz Lightyear's famous catchphrase seems to be holding true.
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