Becoming A Commercial Drone Pilot in the UK
There are many important factors in becoming a commercial drone pilot.
Drone Safe Register (DSR) breaks down the process and gives you their take on these considerations.
The use of drones is regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Anyone using a drone for ‘aerial commercial work’ needs operating permission from the CAA. This must be renewed annually and is known as CAA PFCO or A2. The UK drone industry is expanding fast with approximately 5000 trained and qualified UAV pilots. Estimates of the number of drone pilots using their UAV’s for paid work without CAA approval and commercial insurance could be as high as 5000. As yet no one has been prosecuted within the UK for flying for commercial gain but we expect this will happen soon. This would serve as a message to illegal pilots and show recognition to the 5000 plus CAA pilots who have invested considerable time and money to become safe and legal.
In order to gain CAA OA or A2, you will need to complete a course that requires you to demonstrate the necessary skills and knowledge needed by a UAV operator. The CAA does not run these courses directly but instead approves RAE's to conduct the training and assessment on their behalf. The process involves passing a ground exam and a flight test. Training costs vary but typically it will cost around £600. There are fast track methods also. Flying a drone is like anything, the more you practice the better you will become.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Practice until flying operation becomes second nature. Professional drone operators need many hours of practice in order to be properly prepared for day to day piloting and to be able to focus on the job in hand. We hear of many people underestimating the amount of time required to become a proficient pilot. The reality is that you’ll need to log hours of flying time before you’re at a level to work professionally.
So you’ve got your qualification and you’ve logged your training hours. The next sections reveal some important kit costs, business and marketing considerations.
Kit and Hardware Costs
It’s worth considering the amount of money that you will need to spend on hardware to effectively operate. Drone kits typically range from £1000 to £20,000. On top of the actual drone you will need additional batteries. And lots of them, as you can’t attend a job with just 15-20 mins of flight time. Most UAV professionals carry at least 6 batteries and have mobile charging kit on hand.
You will also need to learn camera settings and have a powerful enough computer to handle the large files in post editing.
Drones have the potential to revolutionize the way we do business. The UK drone industry is targeted as a growth industry. There is no doubt that there is good money to be made by piloting drones but it’s worth noting the realities of daily rates before jumping into the industry. The daily rate of £1000 per day which we often hear banded about is unrealistic. To expect this having been newly qualified is unrealistic unless you are flying with a very expensive specialist camera on board. Sadly you will not be able to able to simply take estate agent aerial photos or carry out aerial inspections on a daily basis at £150 per flight. The industry just isn’t like this. A daily rate of £350 – £500 seems to be more the norm currently within the industry. And, as more pilots become qualified; rates will become more competitive. You will also need to factor in how many days you can fly in a year. Winter can be very quiet and in some months you may not even have one job if the weather is unsuitable for flying.
Marketing my Pilot Skills
The quality of your film, craft and editing, speaks volumes. Certainly showreels on our DSR marketed directory can be very sensitive. If you use a GoPro without any stabilisation and edit this footage into your show reel it’s unlikely that you will receive a call for your next job. A well edited show reel with examples of your advanced aerial flying/filming skills is what the hiring client will want to see and in our opinion is the best way to market your pilot skills.
Joining Drone Safe Register
After reading this and you want to become a professional drone pilot. Once you have your CAA OA or A2 we invite all trained, qualified and insured pilots to join DSR. The UK does have other registers but they are not marketed and you will not be found, every week another one pops up! We are the UK’s fastest growing marketed drone hire directory website. See for yourself…Just Google ‘Drone Hire in any UK town’ and you’ll see we are coming up on in the top three search results and often first. We do this by heavily marketing the site using social networking platforms and Google AdWords. Our annual Adwords budget is now £40000 per year for example and as more members join, so does our marketing budget.
Membership works out at just £17 per month paid annually, a small fee considering the investment you have just made.