Drones are becoming increasingly numerous in many aspects of daily life. By now most people are familiar with the fact that they take photographs, film aerial videos, and map the landscape.
Recent drone market data has confirmed that UAS technology has progressed from the exploratory experimental phase and has now reached the solid implementation phase.
In this Drone Age UAV will become an essential part of operations in everything from professional photography to the oil and gas industry. It is predicted that by 2020 there will be 7 million drones in the air.
Between this year and the next the figure will reach approximately 600,000 commercial drones alone flying below 500 feet in our skies. Perhaps, as you watch TV news, documentaries, and films you have already become accustomed to spotting the drone footage.
Drones are a huge advantage to many including map makers seeking greater accuracy and a method of collecting data in a cost effective way. For example, they are reportedly being used by Apple to improve its Maps app.
Drones can also be used for internal end external structural inspections of buildings and industrial plants. This makes them immensely useful for collecting data using a variety of camera lenses in areas that are dirty or dangerous – where humans would prefer not to visit due to the risks or the discomfort involved.
Growing demand for Drone Pilots
As a result of the burgeoning drone industry there is an ever growing demand for drone pilots. There has never been a better time to get involved in flying drones. Perhaps you plan to incorporate drone technology into your current business, or you intend to become a freelance drone pilot, or perhaps your goal is to start a drone business.
Whatever your ambitions you will need good quality training provided by companies authorised to provide it by the aviation authority.
Flying any aircraft requires that the pilot in command obeys certain rules and regulations. The same principles apply to pilots in command of unmanned aircraft. The fact that you’re on the ground and not in a cockpit doesn’t alter the fact that you have a responsibility for an aircraft.
Your UAV may be small and light, but it’s an aircraft nonetheless. It means that you have to adhere specific restrictions relating to RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems) operating at low level and often in areas of intense human activity e.g. urban and industrial areas.
The CAA is your friend
One of the responsibilities of UK’s CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) is formulating and administering of all aspects of Air Law. There are rules which apply to all unmanned aircraft, whether they are being flown for fun or for commercial reasons.
These rules will vary depending on the size of your drone and where you are planning to fly it. If you plan to fly your drone over your own property then fewer restrictions will apply, although there will still be some with which you need to be familiar.
The main purpose of all this regulation is safety. They are designed to minimise the risk of any injury to people (on the ground or in the air) or damage to property. There are also regulations that protecting peoples’ rights to privacy and for prohibiting the use of drones for illegal activities.
The main source of all the information about the UK’s rules and regulations is the CAA’s website. Start at unmanned aviation section and become familiar with all the contents.
If you want to fly a drone for any kind of commercial work in the UK you need to be over 18 years old. You will need to pass a written exam that tests your knowledge of best flying practices, airmanship, air law, and airspace restrictions. You will also need to pass a flight assessment in which your flying skills will be tested.
Thirdly, you will need to compile an Operations Manual which outlines the basic flying procedures for the types of flights you intend to undertake with your drone.
The PfCO – Permission for Commercial Operation
Once you’ve passed the exam and the flight assessment, and completed your Operations Manual, you can apply to the CAA for a PfCO which stands for Permission for Commercial Operation from the CAA (Formerly called PfAW – Permission for Aerial Work. They changed it in August 2016).
PfCO’s are valid for 12 months from the date of issue. Applications for renewal are best sent at least 30 days before the expiry date to ensure continuity.
If you change the type of UAV flown or any aspect of the type of flights flown then you’ll need to amend your Operations Manual and inform the CAA of those changes.
In the UK training is provided by NQEs, National Qualified Entities. These are training organisations approved to provide training, adjudicate exams, and conduct flight assessments.
There are NQEs all over the UK now. Just google for ‘drone training‘ in your chosen area e.g. ‘drone training Exeter‘. You shouldn’t have to travel too far for courses and assessments.
Don’t be a drone dunce
Failure to comply with CAA regulations can result in hefty fines and even a prison sentence. It is therefore crucial to make sure that you do not fall foul of the law at any time, and the safeguard against that is high quality training that fosters a good sense of airmanship.
Safe and legal training is provided by CAA accredited training organisations called NQEs, National Qualified Entities. Choosing one of these organisations to train you is a very smart choice because it means that you will know the relevant regulations perfectly.
As well as providing the theoretical knowledge that you need an NQE will also provide practical training. They will lead you form ab initio student to a professional level of competency. They will also advise you on how to apply for your PfCO.
Who Are The New Drone Pilots?
Currently, there are four main paths that people take to become commercial drone operators.
The first path is as a hobbyist who finds that they can make money from their drone flying skills. If you can already fly a quadcopter well you may already have been wondering if you can earn money by doing so. Your experience of the flying characteristics of various airframes and the software that controls them will stand you in good stead for the move into the professional world.
The second path stems from the military. If you originally trained as a military UAV pilot and you’re now ready to now move into the civilian world then there are commercial drone flying openings awaiting you. The military experience with the emphasis on teamwork and adherence to flight procedures are the ideal foundation for a new career flying commercial UAV.
Thirdly, we have professional photographers who are looking to branch out into aerial photography. If you already work as a photographer it makes sense to capitalise on the growing demand for aerial photography. Aerial photography skills will enable you to get that perfect shots from previously inaccessible angles and heights.
The fourth and final path to drone flying starts with anyone who thinks of themselves as an entrepreneur. If you want to make money from the hottest trends and are seeking a career in a developing market, and if you are ready to turn your hand to anything as long as it is lucrative, drone flying is for you.
Supplemental UAV Training
In addition to the basic drone pilot training classes provided by CAA accredited NQEs there are various specialisations that you can adopt. Depending on your current or desired career you might want to specialise in videography, cinematography and film editing alongside basic drone flying skills. Technological additions to your drone will enable you to equip it for a specific purpose such as film making or high definition photography.
Another popular customisation to consider for your drone is a LiDAR sensor. LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensors send a pulsing laser beam to scan the earth’s surface and measure the time it takes for the light to hit the target and return to its source. The data is compiled to create very accurate 3D models of terrain. These sensors are highly useful in any profession that requires topographical data such as agriculture, forestry, and archaeology.
You may be surprised by the vast array of courses that are available to enhance your current drone flying skills and ensure that you can put your drone to good use in a specific field. From courses on building quadcopters from scratch to others on using drones for aerial photography, videography, cinematography, and live streaming you will have no trouble finding a teacher and a module that suits your needs.
As new applications for drones are discovered and new niches open up in the market, new drone training courses are beginning up and down the country.
To summarise, start your drone training with accredited trainers who will help you develop the habits that will last throughout your career. Develop a strong sense of airmanship and situational awareness that keeps you in control of any aircraft in flight.
In Continental Europe drones are regulated by the EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency). Laws differ from country to country within Europe so no matter what country you wish to fly your drone in it is crucial that you check the the rules and regulations that apply to unmanned aircraft in that country’s airspace.