The popularity and affordability of drones is making many people think about a career in the industry. A frequently asked question is therefore ‘Do I need a CAA drone licence.’
If you use a drone for personal use as a hobby, CAA approval isn’t required as such. However, you still need to fly safely and responsibly and be aware of the general public.
Anyone using a drone for business or profit does need a CAA drone license in the form of a ‘PfCO’ – or Permission to Fly Commercial Operations to give it the full title. It’s not actually a license as such, but being granted a PfCO gives you CAA permission to operate commercially as a drone pilot.
The CAA have strict definitions about what constitutes ‘reward’ and commercial use of drones, so it’s important to check and understand these. For example, an estate agent using a drone to take aerial shots of properties for sale would constitute commercial use and need the operator to work with a PfCO.
Obtaining a CAA drone licence involves three stages. Firstly, there’s classroom study covering the theory learning and assessment. Topics covered include Airmanship and Aviation Safety and Aircraft Knowledge. If you don’t have any knowledge of aviation it’s a good idea to do some pre-course reading so that you are familiar with some of the terminology and principles.
Stage two of obtaining a PfCO is a practical flight assessment. This is nothing to worry about if you’ve studied the theory part and know the procedures. The examiner doesn’t expect you to perform complex manoeuvres with your drone, it’s very much about safety and awareness of risks.
Finally, you will need to produce an Operations Manual describing how you will run your drone business and the processes you will have in place to ensure your drone is airworthy and that all flights will be conducted safely. If you obtain your PFCO drone licence from a good company, they will provide an Operations Manual template and take you through it step by step.