The Ultimate Guide to gaining your Drone Pilot's Licence (CAA PfCO)
First of all, it’s important to point out that a “drone licence” doesn’t actually exist in the UK, as this can be misleading. However, the term is regularly coined by those who don’t know how better to describe the Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO) – as the full name can be a bit of a mouthful!
The PfCO is granted by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to allow a drone pilot to undertake commercial work with their SUA (small unmanned aircraft), the official CAA term for a drone under 20kg.
Remember – the UK Civil Aviation Authority do not issue “drone licences”. This term is often used in reference to the Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO). We aim to provide knowledge about the CAA PfCO, widely referred to as a drone license.
Many drone pilots use their aircraft purely for recreational purposes, and if this is the case there’s no need to get your drone license. All you need to do is make sure you’re operating your drone safely and within CAA regulations.
If you plan on turning your hobby into a career, or are employed by a company who wants to enhance their business operations with drone solutions, then you will need to get a drone licence (PfCO). This applies even if the imagery/drone footage gained is not your primary commercial activity. For example; an architect’s practice providing aerial images captured by drone as part of a package of work to a client, would still require the architect to have a valid CAA drone license.
The ability to commercially operate a drone safely and legally is extremely beneficial to you, your business and your clients. The knowledge obtained by professional training will help you operate more safely and efficiently. If you choose to operate commercially without a PfCO you are not only breaking the law, but also exposing yourself, your company and potentially your client, to a large financial liability should anything go wrong, as you will be unable to hold the correct insurance. It is easy to see that failing to comply with drone regulations is not only against the law in the UK, but also very unsound business practice – so let’s discuss how to get a UK drone license!
The official CAA approved companies where you can be assessed for your PfCO are called National Qualified Entities or NQEs for short. Uplift Drones is a leading NQE in the United Kingdom. We provide high quality training courses to help you obtain your PfCO and ensure our students become skilled and knowledgeable SUA pilots.
We will take you from basic drone awareness to complete commercial compliance with the UK CAA and the applicable laws. You can choose from four of our six drone training courses to gain your CAA PfCO (drone licence):
To find out more about our drone training courses, contact our friendly experts on 0330 111 8800 or view our drone training locations for upcoming course dates.
At Uplift, we like to be completely transparent with our customers. Our PfCO drone training courses start from £450 plus VAT, depending on the type of training you require.
All prices include VAT.
Good question! And one that we’re often asked… The reason is that Aviation Regulators like the CAA usually require a medical certificate to be held for an aviation licence. E.g. airline pilots are currently required to hold a “Class 1” medical to also hold their pilots licence.
This isn’t the same with a Permission for Commercial Operations for drones. There are currently no medical standards* for a PfCO so you do not have to hold a medical certificate. As there is no requirement to hold a medical certificate for a PfCO, the term drone pilot licence is not used officially for SUA in the UK.
*You must still be able to fly your drone safely and demonstrate any current medical conditions do not affect the safe operation of the drone.
Remember – the UK Civil Aviation Authority do not issue ‘drone licences’. This term is often used in reference to the Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO). We aim to provide knowledge about the CAA PfCO, widely referred to as a drone license.
You don’t need a drone licence or PfCO to capture drone footage as a hobby. However, you do need to ensure you are flying your drone safely and adhering to the UK Drone Code.
The CAA require applicants to be 18 years old to gain their Permission for Commercial Operations, as you will likely be undertaking contractual work and therefore cannot be classed as a minor (under 18). There is currently no upper age limit to apply for a PfCO.
You will need to undertake commercial drone training with an NQE or National Qualified Entity. NQE’s are CAA-approved drone training providers in the UK. As a leading NQE in the UK, Uplift Drones can take you from basic drone knowledge to full commercial compliance with the CAA and guide you through the entire process to gain your drone permissions for commercial work.
You will be required to undertake a theory exam during the Ground School component of your PfCO drone training course. Once you have passed your theory test and have met the practical flight requirements, you can take your flight test. This is conducted over 1-2 hours at your NQE’s outdoor training location(s) with an experienced trainer.
There are different types of drone pilot licence, depending on the type of drone or aircraft you will be operating. The most common drone licence is the ‘standard permission’ for unmanned aerial systems (UAS) that have a weight category of 0-20kg. If you require reduced distance limitations outside of the standard permission then you may want to complete an Operating Safety Case and apply for a non-standard permission from the CAA.
At Uplift Drones, we offer online courses to help you apply for both type of permission. The Online PfCO course leads to our recommendation to the CAA for the student to receive a standard permission or PfCO. The OSC Guidance course helps you to understand and write your OSC for submission to the CAA – coming soon.
The CAA drone pilot licence (PfCO) is only valid for commercial drone operations undertaken within the UK – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Currently, your PfCO is only valid in the United Kingdom. However, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has proposed a regulatory framework that has now been adopted by the European Council. This will bring all UAS under 150kg within EASA regulations, rather than national aviation authorities – in the UK this is the Civil Aviation Authority. But don’t worry, these rules aren’t due to be finalised until Q1 2019 and may take even longer to come into play. You can stay updated with UK drone legislation via our blog.
Yes! You can study online at your own pace, from the comfort of your home or office with our Online PfCO course. With access to our e-learning portal, you can either speed up or slow down the process to gaining your CAA drone pilot licence (PfCO). With mock exams available to prep you for the theory exam, the Online PfCO is the most accessible route to get you into the skies. You can even pair it with the latest drones at a discounted price, with one of our drone + training bundles.