Early in 2014 I began investigating UAV, quadcopters, and other drones, with a view to selling them online. I could see that they looked set to become popular gadgets for amateurs and useful tools for professionals. Eventually I opted for the DJI range and having jumped through a few hoops to become an authorised retailer I was able to launch Copter Drones. Soon after I began looking into the requirements for flying them legally and safely for commercial purposes. I soon discovered the two training routes in the UK; RPQ-s or BNUC-s and I opted for the RPQ-s, Remote Pilot Qualification – small, with training and assessment provided by Resource Group. (Note: since completing my RPQ-s course two more NQEs are offering training, so now there’s RPQ-s, BNUC-s, RPCL and training from Sky Futures. See foot of this post)
There wasn’t much in it between the two options as far as I could tell at the time. As I was new to the subjects and the training providers it wasn’t an obvious choice to go for one qualification over another. On reflection I seem to recall that it was minor differences like the location of the ground school classes and the impact of the Resource Group website over that of the training provider for the BNUC-s, EuroUSC™. The EuroUSC™ website has since been updated and looks a lot more professional. I’ll leave it to those who have completed the BNUC-s to explain why they chose it over the RPQ-s.
Training for the RPQ-s, Remote Pilot Qualification – small
N.B. I’m writing this from memory so please be aware that I may have ommitted points and that the process is likely to evolve and change over time. Always refer to the CAA’s descriptions and the training provider’s website for full and up to date process description.
My path to RPQ-s qualification can be summarised as a three step process:
- Some web based learning to introduce some basic concepts air law, meteorology and other ground school subjects
- A three day ground school course in which instructors guide you through the subjects in much more detail
- A flight assessment during which you demonstrate not only your abilities to fly your UAS safely but also your pre flight planning
However, there is a little more to it than that. You also have to compile Flight Reference Cards for your UAS, and an Operations Manual. These will be submitted to the CAA for review and approval before your PfAW can be issued. If you decide to makes changes to your UAS at a later date then the Ops Manual will need to be updated and re-submitted.
RPQ-s Ground School
If you have had any previous experience of aviation either as a PPL holder or in a professional capacity then the ground school parts should be very familiar territory for you. However, they are specific to UAV so there will be new concepts and information to absorb even if you’ve logged thousands of hours of flying. If you have not flown any type of manned aircraft before then don’t be put off as the material is easy to follow and understand with a little concentration.
On the three day ground school course that I attended the other candidates included; two airline pilots, one retired helicopter pilot, and several photographers of one type or another, all looking forward to adding aerial photography to their repertoire. The two instructors were ex-Army UAV pilots who had flown reconnaissance UAV on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, so their anecdotes and stories were very interesting and added a great deal to the proceedings.
Timescales for Qualification
If you’re in full time employment and you’re willing to sacrifice some of your annual leave to attend classes, or if you’re retired or unemployed then you can expect to complete the course and obtain your qualification within about 4-6 months. This may change in 2015 if more instructors are recruited, but even so I don’t think my milestones were longer apart than average. It all depends on how flexible you are and how far you’re willing to travel and spend on accommodation, if at anything at all.
- Course booked early July 2014
- Web based learning completed in July
- 3 day ground school course and test completed in October (had to wait for one close enough to commute too and earlier ones were fully booked)
- Flight Reference Cards and Operations Manual completed in November
- Flight Assessment passed (after several weather postponements) in December 2014
Cost of RPQ-s and PfAW
The total cost will vary depending on your home location, choice of UAS etc, but here’s a rough guide:
- RPQ-s course: £1,600 + VAT = £1,920
- CAA application fee: £113
- Travel to ground school venue: £25
- Travel to flight assessment: £35
- Accommodation near ground school and/or flight assessment venue: £0
- UAS ancillary equipment e.g. cones, tape, signs, fire extinguisher etc. £100
- UAS itself e.g. DJI Phantom 2 Vision+, case, spare batteries etc. £1,200
- Commercial insurance, £600 per year
So there’s a capital cost of about £3,500-£4,000, some of which you may be able to claim back if you’re already in business and registered for VAT.
Conclusion and PFAW
Once the course is complete, the tests passed, and documentation written up to the required standard, the next step is to fill out the SRG1320 form to apply PFAW (Permission for Aerial Work) from the CAA. The Resource Group helped with this and the submission was done through them. It’s all part of the course fee.
I finally received the PFAW from the CAA late in January 2015 having submitted the SRG1320 on Christmas Eve, 2014. This marks the conclusion of this path and the beginning of a new one that leads to becoming an established supplier of aerial photography and surveying.
Notes & Links
1. If you email the CAA you will receive an automated reply that contains links to documents that will answer most questions. Here is a copy of that reply:
We are receiving a very high number of enquiries about Small Unmanned Aircraft (UA) – ‘Drones’ – and the various rules and requirements governing their operation within the UK. Although we will read your e-mail enquiry, it will not always be possible to provide an individual response. Please use the links below to find detailed information on common enquiries:
> UK Law: Air Navigation Order (ANO) Articles 166 and 167 pertaining to small unmanned aircraft: www.caa.co.uk/cap393
> Demonstrating pilot competency at a National Qualified Entity (NQE) for the grant of CAA permission to work commercially (‘aerial work’): www.eurousc.com and www.resource-uas.co.uk and www.caa.co.uk/in2014044
> Collecting images with an SUA: Data Protection Act: www.caa.co.uk/in2013027
Flight Operations FSO
CAA SARG Gatwick
2. As of spring 2015 there are four NQE (National Qualified Entities). These are companies that have been approved by the CAA to provide Remote Pilot training to candidates who want to apply for a PFAW. They are: