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Guide to CAA PfCO Approval

Drone Training towards the CAA PfCO

How do I become a commercial drone pilot in the UK?

This is one of the questions we get asked all the time at Uplift Drones! Don’t worry – the answer is straightforward and we are here to help you through each step of the process.

2 men wearing hardhats with a drone in the background

1. What is a CAA PfCO?

The Permission for Commercial Operations – or CAA PfCO as it’s most commonly known – is granted by the UK Civil Aviation Authority and permits the individual to legally operate drones or Small Unmanned Aircraft (SUA) for paid work in the United Kingdom. It’s important to point out that a ‘drone licence’ doesn’t actually exist in the UK, so this term can be misleading. However, the term is regularly coined by those who don’t know how better to describe the Permission for Commercial Operations (CAA PfCO) – as its full name can be a bit of a mouthful! 

PfCO ground school

2. Find Your NQE

The commercial drone training companies where you can be assessed for your CAA PfCO are officially called National Qualified Entities or NQEs for short. They provide training and assessment to ensure you become a fully competent drone operator. Like with any service, it’s important to do your research and find the best NQE for you. Uplift Drones is one of the original leading NQEs in the UK. We provide high-quality training courses to help you obtain your PfCO with unlimited support throughout and beyond the process.

3. Book Your Drone Course

Once you have found an excellent-quality NQE, you need to book a training course. Uplift Drones provides two types of training courses that lead to your CAA PfCO – online and classroom. The Online PfCO is one of our best-selling courses, as you complete the theory element from the comfort of your home or office with our advanced online learning management system. The Advanced PfCO & Fast Track PfCO both have two days of classroom-based theory training (Ground School). Our Advanced PfCO course adds a session of flight training, which we think is essential for those not familiar with flying drones or planning commercial drone jobs. At the end of your 2-day theory course there is a multiple choice exam, which you will be well prepared for by the end of Ground School. 

4. Write Your Ops Manual

As part of your PfCO application, you will need to write and supply an Operations Manual, which sets out how you will operate your drone safely. Your Ops Manual contains the procedures you will use when flying your drone, including on your flight test. We will help you with guidance on how to write your Ops Manual along with our easy-to-use Ops Manual Templates, and provide ongoing support via online chat, phone & email. We can show you how to complete this to the highest standard, with minimum fuss. This Operations Manual will form part of your application to the CAA for your Permission for Commercial Operations.

flight

5. Pass Your Flight Exam

Once you have submitted your Operations Manual to us and it has been approved, you will need to take out commercial drone insurance and book a Practical Flight Test with us. By the time you have been through the excellent training at Uplift, you will be confident when it comes to the Flight Test. The Flight Test will be conducted as if it is a commercial job; the examiner will make it clear what is expected, but will only observe and assess your operation against the operations manual / flight procedures you have written. 

operations manual

6. Submit Your Application

When you have completed all parts of the course successfully and submitted an Operations Manual for review (which has been signed off by our training team), you can submit your paperwork to the CAA via their online application process. The CAA charge an application fee application which is not included in the course price. Shortly after, you will receive your Permission for Commercial Operations. You are then all set to work commercially with your aircraft in whatever sector your business is focusing on; whether it be filmmaking, photography, surveying or something else!

Popular Drone Courses

Online PfCO

The Online PfCO eLearning course has been created by our expert training team of commercial drone operators and manned pilots. This contains comprehensive written information and is packed with interactive content, videos and activities to test your new knowledge along the way. Learn at your own pace, in your own time – without taking any time off work. All you need to do is login and pick up where you left off. 

Fast Track PfCO

The Fast Track PfCO is a 2-day classroom based course taught by industry experts. Within those 2 days of Ground School we cover modules from Air Law to Meteorology to Risk Assessments. You will have access to our pre-course study material (eLearning) and ops manual templates and flight exam preparation eCourse. This course also includes your written theory test, practical flight exam and comprehensive ops manual review.

Advanced PfCO

The Advanced PfCO is a 3-day classroom based course that includes a practical flight test preparation element on Day 3. It’s an invaluable practical training session for those looking to maximise their chances of passing their flight test first-time, and for those who want to ‘hit the ground running’ when they are ready to start their commercial operations. Drone equipment and insurance is included for flight training.

All Uplift Drones PfCO courses lead to our NQE recommendation to the CAA, for granting the applicant a Permission for Commercial Operations.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a CAA PfCO?

The Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO) is granted by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to allow a company or person to undertake commercial (paid) work with their SUA (small unmanned aircraft -the official CAA term for a drone under 20kg).

What is a Small Unmanned Aircraft?

The CAA definition of a SUA is: “Any unmanned aircraft, other than a balloon or a kite, having a mass of not more than 20kg without its fuel but including any articles or equipment installed in or attached to the aircraft at the commencement of its flight.”

What is the definition of ‘Commercial Operation’?

Commercial operation is given the following meaning within article the Air Navigation Order:
“…any flight by a small unmanned aircraft except a flight for public transport, or any operation of any other aircraft except an operation for public transport-
(a) which is available to the public;
or 
(b) which, when not made available to the public,   
i. in the case of a flight by a small unmanned aircraft, is performed under a contract between the SUA operator and a customer, where the latter has no control over the remote pilot;
or
ii. in any other case, is performed under a contract between an operator and a customer, where the latter has no control over the operator, 
…in return for remuneration or other valuable consideration.” 

The key elements in understanding this term are ‘…any flight by a small unmanned aircraft…in return for remuneration or other valuable consideration’.

What is an NQE?

The commercial drone training companies where you can be assessed for your CAA PfCO are officially called National Qualified Entities or NQEs for short. They provide training and assessment to ensure you become a fully competent drone operator.

What is an Operations Manual?

As part of your PfCO training you are required to complete an Operations Manual. This sets out how you will operate your drone safely and contains the procedures you will use when flying your drone.  The operations manual consists of your Operating Safety Case (OSC) Volume 1 and Volume 2 (optional for standard Permission). It is a working document and must be kept up-to-date with current regulations and your operation.

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