As drones become more and more commonplace in business the question of how to do this legally and safely comes up all the time.
The process is in fact quite straight forward and you can achieve all that is required in as little as 6 weeks if you have the time and an experienced pilot (or someone who can put at least 10 hours in to learning to fly a drone competently). There are basically three things you need to make an application to the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) to gain what is called a PfCO (Permission for Commercial Operations).
- A recommendation from an NQE (National Qualified Entity)
- An Operations Manual
- Adequate EC compliant insurance (although the CAA no longer require proof of this when making an application)
First of all to get your recommendation you need to get in touch with one of the 40+ NQE’s in the UK (see 9 questions to ask you NQE before you choose.
To get this you need to pass one of their courses which will include a multiple choice theory test and a flight test. Many of these courses today are available online as well as 2, 3 or sometimes 4-day courses in the classroom with an instructor. Ultimately, they will all get you your PfCO however there are certainly some course which are better written and delivered than others.
Our personal recommendation would be www.flyicarus.co.uk because we trained there and have worked with them for many years. Your learning styles (or your nominated pilots) will be a key factor as to decide whether or not to attend a classroom course or online. Our advice is do not just choose the cheapest because this is one of the biggest investments you will make before operating commercially, choose the course which suits you best and gives you the most value because there is a lot more to commercial drone operations that just getting a PfCO and a drone and start flying.
Some NQEs will give you much more value and include extra benefits that will prove worthwhile when you are operating out in the field in public spaces such as night flying classes, operations manuals, flight reference cards, dedicated customer support etc. Once you have chose your NQE speak to them about what they can offer you in terms of Operations Manual support. This will either come in the form of a template (issues by the CAA) or they will offer you a manual writing service.
The Operations Manual is the document that the CAA will review when you make and application for a PfCO before deciding whether to approve you or your organisation. The Operations Manual explains to the CAA how you are going to run the drone arm of your business safely and legally. Typically, this would be a 30 to 40 page plus document and will list all your drones and specifications, pre flight procedures, in flight procedures, drone maintenance records, pilots etc. The importance of this document and following this document when you operate is imperative.
Treat this manual like its your bible because you will be judged by it! It is also important to make sure you get this document right because the CAA are now implementing charges for sub standard manuals. If Operations Manuals have mistakes in them the CAA can now charge you £124! Our advice is if you are struggling for time and you want to get this right first time is to use a manual writing service (available from around £200) but make sure you understand and know the document inside and out. If you decide to write your own manual, make sure that the NQE you are using will support you if you have any issues with it to need any help.
Finally, you need to make sure you have EC complaint insurance. This is extremely easy to get and depending on what drones you are operating with can vary in price but like with any insurance make sure you understand what is covered. Some policies for example may not cover you if you cannot recover the drone after an incident. For example, if the drone landed in a lake and was irretrievable then you may not get any money back. Make sure that your policy is fit for purpose and covers all your operations and eventualities. Some of your clients may have specific requirements in terms of public liability and may ask for up to and over £20m in cover. If you are just starting out, then it may be prudent to consider pay as you fly insurance before committing to an annual policy. There are now some drone specific insurance providers such as Flock, Coverdrone and Moonrock where you can easily get quotes online. Prices can vary from £4.95 for an hours flying on pay as you go or in our case the policy was just over £1000 including VAT to cover £18,000 of equipment with a £10m public liability cover.
Once you have ticked all the boxes above you are free to operate commercially in the UK and many other countries where the PfCO is accepted as a means of competence although many countries will also want you to take their own tests before you operate there like the USA for example. If you don’t have a drone at this stage and you need to decide what the right drone for your business is then please get in touch with us at Caelus Drones.
We specialise in enterprise drone sales and as a commercial drone operator ourselves we can give you the best advice to make sure you make the right purchase. Too often we see business buy a drone without thinking about what the desired output is and often have had to buy again when they realise the drone they bought doesn’t actually do what they wanted it to do. There are some great drones now being designed and built with specific applications like the DJI Phantom 4 RTK (https://caelusdrones.co.uk/product/dji-phantom-4-rtk-d-rtk-ground-station-bundle/) and the M200 RTK V2 (https://caelusdrones.co.uk/product/dji-m210-v2/) but before you buy and if you aren’t familiar with please pick up the phone and talk to us for some guidance. We will always start at the end and base the best drone choice on the required outputs and we can offer a full end to end and extremely competitive service on all drones from DJI, Parrot, ALTI, Aerialtronics and more!