Commercial SUA Pilot training – UK

Several years back I got interested in drones (Small Unmanned Aircraft) or SUSA’s (Small Unmanned Surveillance Aircraft) as they’re officially known. Unfortunately I wasn’t in a position to do anything until 2018. In that February I was laid low by a very nasty bout of pneumonia that had me bed-locked for three weeks. During this time I did a lot of reading, watching Youtube and generally getting the notion that it would make a cool backup career if the autonomous vehicles fell through.

Later that month a shiny DJI Phantom 4 Pro came along and at the same time I managed to secure a huge area of land right outside where I work for flight practice. Then, after a fair bit of practice and on-line reading I decided to book a course to start down the road towards a ‘PfCO’ – Permission for Commercial Operations. After looking around, I decided to book through Heliguy and chose Farnborough as the site of choice as it’s the closest. That done, I just had to count down the days until the course began. Here’s a brief breakdown of what’s done to gain the PfCO.

This is done in three stage:

  1. Three day ground school – Air Law/Navigation and Operating procedures with an exam at the end of day three –  Farnborough late May 2018
  2. Then put together an ‘Operations Manual’ – the book that will outline every aspect of how you will operate. when this is signed off – completed late October 2018
  3. The Practical Flight Assessment. A pass or fail set of exercises carried out in accordance with the Ops manual – Farnborough – late October 2018

After this your Ops manual should contain the following documents;

  • Ground School pass certificate
  • Ops manual certificate of recommendation to the CAA
  • Practical Flight Assessment pass certificate
  • Commercial insurance compliant with EC 785/2004

Now the whole lot is submitted through the CAA on-line application form costs the princely sum of £173 (Oct 2018). Then a few days later, as long as everything is OK, you will receive a very underwhelming (but oh so important!) email with your PfCO attached.

  • PfCO granted by CAA – end of October 2018

Due to pending changes in the Air Navigation Order and rules regarding drones, I held off proceeding further through June/July until they were in place, then beavered away on the Ops manual in August/September/October. In reality if I’d cracked on from the start I probably would have had the PfCO a few month earlier. However I wasn’t in a rush and besides, one of the benefits of waiting was that the standard permission I was issued is for drones up to 20Kg rather than 7Kg as it used to be!