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 market.

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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