10 March 2015

So You Want To Become A Commercial Drone Pilot?

It’s becoming a weekly question and something that the UAV community are more than happy to advise on: “How do I set up a drone business?”

Firstly, there’s a really good reason why the community are so willing to advise people, and it’s all down to the fact that we want anyone who is taking the leap to do it safely and correctly.

The Catch 22 - Flying to become a commercial drone pilot, without your Permission For Aerial Work:

To set up a worthy business, you need investment. Some might say that this is one of the cheapest startups going, but you’re still looking at upwards of £10,000 to get a DSLR-lifting-drone up in the air. However, there’s no way that you’re going to take on a huge S800 or S1000 on your first attempt at flying multirotors.

The best advice is to start small. Build your quadcopter from scratch and never buy a Ready To Fly (RTF) quadcopter. If you buy a RTF, you will now nothing about how it works, or more importantly, how to diagnose a fault if there’s a problem. You can buy a kit for less than £200 which has GPS and all the technology to fly a GoPro-carrying quadcopter or hexacopter.

You will crash!

This statement is true, no matter how good you are. Once your skills are good enough to competently fly, then complacency becomes your next risk. So as I said above, start small, make your mistake on something which doesn’t cost much to fix (an arm on a quad is £6 and you can repair it out in the field, unlike most RTF models)

Put the hours in and make sure you log all your flight hours. Fifty hours is a good benchmark to a competent level, but it can be done on less. You may have already upgraded within these hours, due to crashes or a feeling that you were ready, which will mean that the drone you’re flying is probably the model you want to use commercially. (get it weighed and work out if you want to go for <7KG or >7KG)

Get your Permission For Aerial Work

At a whopping £2,500, your PFAW is going to be one of the biggest hits you take without physically being able to rip open a delivery and enjoying putting something together…! We recommend the Resource Group RPQ-s, which is a three day course, followed by a half day practical exam.

The course, without giving too much away, is there to train you on the aviation laws, human factors and how to safely prepare for a commercial flight. The course material is fantastic, but there are a couple of exams to get yourself through, but as long as you pay attention in class, you will be fine.

After your exams, it’s time to get your Flight Reference Cards. This document is a checklist for you to create, which makes sure that from the second you begin packing, to the moment your drone is in the air, you have checked that is has been packed correctly and put together as it should be. Mental checklists may well be something you’ve used, or transmitters sometimes offer checks before you can use the sticks, but in all honesty, these aren’t nearly enough.

Flight exam day I won’t go into too much, as it’s something you need to have prepared for and taken in all the information given to you about the task at hand, prior to the exam.

Exams Passed, PFAW time!

Here is the hardest bit of it all. Writing your Permission For Aerial Work document. This is basically your contract, bible, manual, rules of the air and what you can and won't do. Fifty pages is about right.

After you’ve pulled your hair out for two weeks, it’s time to get it submitted to the CAA. Resource Group will hold your hand through this process, putting you in contact with the relevant person and giving their report on why they feel you are competent to be a commercial drone pilot.

Four Long Weeks Later….

An email will drop into your inbox from the CAA. Heart skis a beat and it’s there, your PFAW! Go get out there and start charging people! Stick to the flight limits and never let your client boss you around, you’ve done it!