by Greg Nuspel
Applying for a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) is a lot of work, especially the first one. We wrote four manuals when applying for ours. Perhaps because it is a lot of work, some people are tempted to believe it isn’t necessary. For example, they might think that because their unit weights less than 2 kilograms, they don’t have to worry about getting a SFOC, but it is more complicated than that.
Transport Canada requires all commercial operators to obtain a SFOC unless they can meet the requirements for an exemption. It is important to read all of the requirements because the final note on the list of the exemptions clearly states that no one can fly a UAV within 9 kilometers of any built-up area without a SFOC.
Sure, applying for a SFOC is a lot of work. I won’t deny that. But I would like to point out that the work required to apply for a SFOC is work operators should be doing anyways. Why? Because the SFOC application process helps operators ensure the safety of their operations.
The SFOC application process is really a safety audit of a UAV operation. The Staff Instruction 623.001 provided by Transport Canada can be looked at as a questionnaire about a company’s UAV operation. By assessing themselves on each point in this document and addressing any weaknesses, operators not only ensure that they comply with the SFOC requirements, they also ensure that their operations are safe. This is just part of the due diligence any commercial operation should be doing regardless of the SFOC process. The SFOC application can be thought of as a safety plan. Once the safety plan has been prepared, Transport Canada audits it and issues a SFOC if the UAV operator complies with the requirements.
Some operators look for an easier way, but is it worth the risks? Let’s say an operator obtains a copy of another operator’s SFOC application. Rather than conducting a rigorous safety audit, the operator cheats the system. After changing a few names and other details, the operator submits the application to Transport Canada. A SFOC may be issued, but it will not be worth the paper it is written on.
Since the operator didn’t create the procedures in the SFOC application, they are probably not following them. If there is an incident and an investigation ensues, this will most likely be discovered. The operator would be found in violation of the SFOC and Transport Canada would void the certificate. Since a valid SFOC is required for coverage, the insurer would refuse to cover the incident. All of this risk and recklessness to avoid some “paperwork”, which is not what it’s about anyway. The SFOC application process is not about paper; it’s about aviation safety.
As much as many operators think the process of obtaining a SFOC is a pain, in the end it is a good thing. Safety should be the cornerstone of any commercial operation and the SFOC process is just a good method of checking if the procedures being used comply with all of the aspects of a safe operation. At Story In Focus, we are proud of the manuals we have created for our operation because by following them we ensure a safe operation.