Flock – How to become a professional drone pilot in the UK

Thinking of starting a career in drones? Then look no further! In this post, we walk you through each step to becoming a fully-fledged professional drone pilot.

The potential of the drone industry

It’s a really exciting time to join the industry, with new drone related jobs emerging every day. And the stats back it up, with PwC recently predicting that over 628,000 people will be employed in the ‘drone economy’ by 2030 in the UK.

Before you can join the growing industry as a professional drone pilot (typically referred to as commercial operators), you’ll need to obtain a licence called a Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO). This is a legal requirement in the UK, and the licence is awarded by a governing body called the CAA.

To help you on your new journey, we have put together this step by step guide which walks you through each step of getting your PfCO. Let’s dive in!

1. Pick your specialty

Before you start, you need to know what you’re going to do with your business. The drone industry is growing fast and there are a tonne of opportunities out there.

Make sure you know what you want to bring to the market. Are you a wedding photographer? Do you want to specialise in surveillance? Are you interested in 3D mapping?

Know how you’re planning to operate and don’t forget to check out your competition! It’s important that you get a good understanding of what is being offered in your area, and how other commercial drone operators price their services.

2. Find the right flight school

The first step to getting your PfCO is booking onto a training course with a flight school. You’ll often see flight schools referred to as National Qualified Entities (NQEs). The length of the course depends on which NQE you choose, but most are around 2–5 days long.

The first part of your course is known as the Ground Training, which normally consists of a few days of theory learning in a classroom setting. This will be followed by a theory test on flight safety and regulations.

Your NQE will also give you guidance on how to create your Operations Manual. This is a document which you need to submit to the CAA as part of your PfCO application. It includes information about how your future business will operate, along with detailed information on how you will ensure you fly your drone(s) in a safe manner.

We want to help you find a course provider that suits you, and we work closely with several NQEs throughout the country. You can find a list with their location, contact information and course descriptions here.

3. Take your flight assessment

Once you have passed your theory test, it’s time for the flight assessment. You will be tested on your ability to plan for, and safely perform, a drone flight. You will also be asked to demonstrate different manoeuvres as requested by your examiner. Don’t forget it’s a requirement to have insurance for your flight assessment.

Here at Flock, we provide instant insurance for your flight assessment, with prices starting from £5.95. It’s approved by all the NQEs we work with, and we won’t tie you in to any long-term commitments. Find out how to get your cover in just 30 seconds here.

4. Get insured

Once you have passed your flight assessment and completed your Operations Manual, you’re nearly ready to send off your application to the CAA.

Before you do this, you’ll need to take out commercial drone insurance. This is because in the UK, it’s a legal requirement that commercial drone pilots have EC785/2004 compliant insurance when flying. As such, part of your application to the CAA involves submitting a proof of insurance document.

There are a range of drone insurance providers out there, offering a variety of insurance policies with varying degrees of cover and long-term commitments. These range from traditional annual insurance policies, to the ‘pay-as-you-fly’ option that we offer at Flock; with our commercial policies starting from £4.95 a day. It’s worthwhile researching the different options, and finding the insurance that’s right for you.

We’ve worked closely with the CAA to make getting your required proof of insurance document as easy as possible. We call it a Cover Note, and you can find out how to get yours (for free) with just the tap of a button here.

5. Send off your application

Once you have completed your Operations Manual, got your proof-of-insurance document and recommendation from your NQE, you are ready to submit your application. You can do this digitally on the CAA’s customer portal.

The CAA aims to process applications in 10 working days, but this can sometimes take a bit longer depending on volume. As you’re waiting for your licence, make sure you keep practicing. You want to enter the industry as prepared as possible, and as the saying goes- practice makes perfect!

6. Start your new career

When you receive your PfCO, you’re all set to go! You can officially start your career as a commercial drone pilot; advertising your services, earning money, and growing your skills and business.

Have a question?

If you have any questions, you can get in touch with us via the instant chat on our website- www.flockcover.com. If you’d prefer to talk over the phone, you can call us on 01234 480260. We hope you’ve found this guide useful, and we wish you the best of luck on your new journey!

Flock is a London-based, VC and Government backed insurtech startup, who have partnered with Allianz to launch Europe’s first pay-as-you-fly drone insurance app, Flock Cover. The app is free to download on both iOS and Android devices.

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