1. Do I need a CAA permission for commercial drone operations (PfCO)?
The answer to that will depend heavily on what you are doing with your drone. If you are receiving any kind of financial gain for your flying or images then it is likely that you do need a permission for commercial operations. Equally, if you are a business that offers commercial imagery, even as part of a package that isn't directly paid for, then you also probably need a PfCO. There are some potential exemptions, for example university research and if imagery is going to be used purely internally within an organisation, however, not holding a permission could limit where you can fly. Operating drones commercially without a PfCO is in breach of the Air Navigation Order and is a criminal offence.
The other advantage to holding a PfCO is that it removes a key limitation for aircraft below 7Kg. Without a permission from the CAA it is illegal to fly over or within 150m of a congested area. A standard, sub-7Kg PfCO removes that limitation. You still have to adhere to other distance regulations, but it gives much more freedom to consider flying legally in built up areas.
2. Can I do my BNUC-S with you?
Short answer... no. The BNUC-S was a qualification that was specific to another full NQE that is no longer trading. Each NQE has its own name for their pilot competency certification/qualification. The CAA recognises each approved NQE equally, so applying with a competency certificate from any NQE will be treated equally from their perspective.
3. What is the difference between the different NQEs?
From the CAA's perspective, nothing. All current full NQEs have been approved by the CAA to assess pilot competence in line with their requirements. Effectively, this means we can supply you with with three certificates; these cover theoretical competence, practical competence and our recommendation that you are issued a PfCO. The NQEs may have different length courses and carry out assessments in different ways; as a result it is important that you choose the NQE that meets your learning needs. The method of delivery tends to depend on the prior experience of the NQE instructors, some of the NQEs instructors come largely from the manned aviation sector and have very little experience of practical drone operations. Others come from military backgrounds. These sectors can provide some useful insight into the drone industry. At The Aerial Academy, we believe that we have achieved a great mix. All our instructors either are, or have been, commercial drone operators. They come from across the drone sector. We also have manned pilots on the team to give insight into the interaction between the manned and unmanned sectors. Most importantly, all our instructors love teaching the course and seeing new pilots progress to the point where they can achieve their PfCO.
4. How long will it take to get my PfCO?
That is really up to you. Our main aim is to get people through, at the latest, within three months of their theory course. An experienced drone pilot who sorts out most of their paperwork before the theory course, could do the flight assessment very soon after the theory. For corporate courses of 3 or more individuals, it is possible to put together a "zero to hero" course that aims to get the majority of the course done in 5 days, but that will depend on the experience of the drone pilots. The CAA have brought in a new online system to process initial PFCO applications, this has speeded up the application process considerably. The service level agreement of the CAA is 28 working days from receipt of application to issue of PFCO bur recently we have seen them coming back in under 10 working days (correct at July 2018).
5. How much paperwork do I have to complete?
You may have heard that there is a lot of paperwork to complete before you are issued your PfCO. That is true to a degree. The system we have agreed with the CAA is that we will teach to a core Operations Manual. This means that by the time you have completed the theory course, you have a very clear idea of why we need the operations manual and are well prepared to complete your own with the assistance of your instructor. The only other paperwork is the online form that allows you to apply for the PfCO. We provide guidance for this as well.
Once you have completed your paperwork, it will then be checked by one of our expert team to ensure that it is complete and likely to be accepted by the CAA.
6. How long does the PfCO application take?
The CAA service level agreement for issuing a PfCO is 28 WORKING days. This equates to about 5-6 weeks. As a result, this is often a limiting factor in terms of time, and must be factored in if you are in a rush to complete your PfCO. We will do our best to assist you but, once the CAA application is made, we have no control over the length of time the process takes.
7. Do I need drone insurance to get my PfCO?
Yes. The CAA now requires that insurance is in place when you apply. The insurance must be compliant to EC regulation EC 785/2004. In real terms this means that the absolute minimum requirement is about £1,000,000 public liability. To operate in some environments you might require up to £10,000,000. As a result, it is important that you understand the sector you will be working in and obtain appropriate insurance. You can also insure your drone for damage, which will increase your premiums significantly. Some companies are now providing cover by the day, which could be cost-effective if you are only likely to do 1 or 2 jobs a month.
In terms of your flight assessment, we provide public liability insurance for that, so you don't need to worry about commercial insurance until you make your application. If you are carrying out non-commercial training flights at a safe location, you may wish to consider recreational drone cover. This is generally fairly cheap. Here are some drone insurance providers to help you get your quotes together.
Commercial drone insurance providers:
Recreational drone insurance providers:
8. Do I need my own drone for training?
When you attend the theory course you don't need to bring a drone at all. Some people attending theory don't even have drones yet. Our instructors are generally happy, time-permitting, to discuss the different equipment that is available.
If attending flight training, our instructors will normally provide one or more drones. If you have your own drone it is useful to bring it with you for flight training to improve familiarity with your own equipment.
For operational flight assessment it is preferable to have your own drone. In exceptional circumstances it may be possible for you to use one of our drones. Dependent on the drone used, we reserve the right to charge an additional fee to cover equipment hire and/or insurance.
9. Can you supply drones?
We now supply DJI drones directly, and are able to recommend drones for different purposes. We offer a discount on DJI drones when brought along with or after our training. We provide direct aftersales support with our supplier and DJI to keep you flying. This is important is the nature of drone operations means damage is a real possibility. As a result, having good insurance, combined with a reliable provider is important. Two of our instructors also have specialist niches for equipment supply:
Jack Wrangham of Drone AG supplies customised drones for agricultural surveying including for NDVI mapping, visual crop analysis and crop spraying.
Jacques Eloff of Vertech Imaging is a fixed-wing specialist who has years of experience in building custom fixed-wing and hybrid drone solutions. Having flown a number of the fixed-wing mapping drones out there, I can honestly say that the Vertech Imaging drones fly superbly, and you will get excellent support from Jacques if you are looking for a custom fixed-wing drone.
10. Can you recommend flight logging software?
The CAA require you to keep logs of all flights carried out under your PfCO. As a company, we use Airdata UAV. You can of course use the standard DJI logging in the DJI Go and Go 4 apps. However, Airdata UAV allows you to delve much more deeply into the flight data. You can produce 3D maps of your flights in Google Earth, assess battery status, log drone maintenance, produce logs for the CAA (requires gold package or higher). Our candidates get a discount code for 10% off any Airdata package.
11. Do I need to get a CAA permission every time I fly my drone?
When you are issued a Permission for Commercial Operations (PFCO) it is valid for a year from the date of issue. You would only need to get additional permissions from the CAA or NATS if you wanted to do something that is not permitted under your standard permission. This is fairly rare unless, for example, you are flying regularly in central London or in restricted areas.
As of March 13th 2019 most UK aerodromes will be surrounded by a flight restriction zone. If flying any drone of any size for any purpose within these zones you will require permission from the local Air Traffic Control unit or the aerodrome operator. There is an interactive map of the new Flight Restriction Zones (FRZ) here.
12. Do I need to write an operations manual every time I fly?
No. The operations manual is a document that is submitted to the CAA on initial application. It gives the CAA the details of your business and the drones you fly, as well as the operating procedures you will employ to fly the drones safely. Ops Manuals are generally reviewed once or twice a year, particularly at renewal time. You ARE required to carry out a site survey and risk assessment before every flight. We will teach you how to do this during the theory course.
13. Who are The Aerial Academy?
Well, in 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit... Oh wait, no, sorry, that's the A Team! Well, our TAA Team is not much different to be honest. We like building stuff, we have a thing for aircraft (obviously BA may wish to differ on that one) and we love it when a plan comes together. Every member of the team has been invited to join as we feel they have something different to add to the mix. So in no particular order we have people who have experience in or who can help you to develop skills in the following areas:
Basic drone flying to get you started
Advanced drone flying to keep you up-to-date and developing your skills
Night flight (a standard permission is daylight hours only)
Transition from military to civilian life (a couple of our pilots are ex-Armed Service personnel)
Photogrammetry (creating 3D models from a series of still images)
Creative drone filming (our pilots have worked on high profile TV and film productions)
...and much, much more. Please don't hesitate to contact us if you have specific areas you would like to look into and we'll put you in touch with the right person. Our growing team is probably the most experienced set of drone pilots in the UK. Other companies may try to wow you with their flight hours, but do check how many of them are actually on drones and not just manned aircraft.
14. I have a manned pilot licence, do I need to do a full PfCO course?
You can if you like; we have had a number of manned pilots who have found the full course helpful in order to develop a deeper understanding of how aviation legislation applies to the drone industry. UAS operators are exempt from most of the Air Navigation Order but there are some key articles that do apply.
As a manned pilot with a current CAA or EASA PPL, LAPL or ATPL you are exempt from the theory aspect of the course but will still have to complete a flight assessment. As a result, we have put together a package that still includes the high level of support available on the full course. If you feel you are theory exempt, then please call us or email and we will confirm your exemption and book you onto the Operational Assessment Bundle course.
A full list of exemptions is available on page 47 of CAP 722. If you feel you should be exempt, but your qualification is not on the list please contact us and we will do our best to help.
15. Do I need a drone licence?
There is currently no such thing as a drone licence or drone license in the UK. The CAA operates a system of permissions and exemptions to allow you to operate drones commercially in UK airspace. See FAQ 1.
16. Any more questions!?
If you have any more questions that don't feature here, please don't hesitate to contact us. We are happy to help and love talking drones.