It’s not just about your new drone!

Getting started with your Drone aka sUAV for commercial videography

NOTE: This covers commercial use of your drone or UAV in Canada.

Got a drone for Xmas? Looking to use your small UAV to capture the scenery and make some money?

We’ve had lots of questions from new entrants into the photography and videography industry in Canada. Usually, from photographers who are thinking about getting a drone with a camera and want to know what else is needed to be ready to start using their drone commercially

Turns out, there are several moving parts needed to set up to do this properly.

Here are some of the key items that need to be considered.

Ground School

First, you’ll need UAV ground school training. Our pilots went to a couple of different courses and the best we’ve found is the Aerobotika course. It was very strong in terms of required content as well providing some great tips on the process of preparing and submitting an SFOC.

The Aerobotika course covers all of the material in TP1526E, which is the mandated curriculum for small UAV users issued by Transport Canada (TC). Having the certificate from a UAV training course is an important marker for TC about your level of competence and commitment.

The UAV ground school course is a serious investment, but it is just the start.

Learn to Fly Safely and with TC Permission

Second, you’ll need to find someone who understands the whole flying thing to help you get started. One option is your local MAAC field. You will need to start logging your flight times, your battery usage and maintenance among other things as well as develop some simple checklists.

This will help to make sure you remember to do the key things to fly well and safely each and every time.

An SFOC or Special Flight Operations Certificate is a key document that outlines the permission from Transport Canada to operate for commercial purposes.  One is needed for each and every flight you do commercially. TC will be looking for a number of key items, including safety checklists, procedures and risk management when you submit your request for each SFOC. And, take note, approval of an SFOC is not automatic.

You will also need some instruction on the actual flying. These small UAV things are pretty good with flight controllers that help you keep the UAV stable, but unfortunately, they do not fly themselves automatically. Best advice is that you will need to practice flying with a current pilot to get familiar with your aircraft. My pilots have been flying for many years, so the piloting involved was very familiar to them. It took me about 6 months of practice to get comfortable with orientation and turning as well as to developed the ability to handle the controls smoothly.

I found that the use of a small Blade Nano QX for practice indoors and a simulator over the winter will help to accelerate the process.

Transport Canada also details a number of safety factors to observe, ones that will apply will be outlined in your SFOC when issued (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Stay at least 150 metres away from people, animals,buildings, structures, and vehicles not involved in the operation
  • Fly during daylight and in good weather
  • Always keep your aircraft in sight
  • Respect the privacy of others
  • Don’t fly close to airports, in populated areas, near moving vehicles, or higher than 90 metres
  • Don;t fly closer than 9 km from forest fires, airports, heliports, aerodromes, or built-up areas
  • Don’t operate your sUAV over military bases, prisons or in controlled or restricted airspace
  • Don’t fly over crowds or higher than 90 metres
  • Don’t participate in special aviation events, air shows or system demonstrations
  • Don’t arry dangerous goods or lasers


Third, you will need to get aviation insurance set up. Transport Canada requires 100K$ of insurance, but we’ve signed up for 1M$, just in case. Some cities, such as Toronto have very high requirements of at least 5M$ of insurance to fly, and you may need a film permit. If you not flying over private property, there can be additional permits needed from cities or municipalities for photographic or video work.

A useful reference is this pdf  TC Staff Instruction (SI) No. 623-001 on the Transport Canada Website. It is the key reference available at this point to give you guidance on the specific information that TC is looking for when completing your application for an SFOC.

Join an Industry Association and Facebook Group

Fourth, there are may places that can help you learn more about the industry and get tips and suggestions to avoid many of the the pitfalls that you’ll encounter. Groups such as the SFOC group on Facebook, Unmanned Systems Canada as an corporate member or CUAVA online will provide great feedback and opportunities to interact with other in the industry. These groups are ver helpful and try hard to inform and educate newcomers.

One last recommendation is to take a course on aerial photography and videography. Udemy has a great course by Dr. Bruce Geddes that will accelerate your entry into the space.

Hope this helps. As an aside, the rules vary in other countries, such as the US or UK so YMMV. Make sure you check the rules of the local civil authorities when travelling.

Feel free to add more questions via the comments.

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