Learning to Fly (a Drone)
Over the past few weeks we’ve been reporting on a growing trend in the construction industry, and in the roofing sector in particular – the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (aka UAVs and drones) to carry out roof inspections. At the end of last week’s report, we promised that this week we would bring our readers some information on how to become a drone pilot and forge a cool career in construction without ever having to climb a ladder. With new, drone-related jobs emerging regularly, now is the best time to embark on the training necessary to fly high in the future.
Here in the UK you need to obtain a licence called a Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO) in order to work as a professional drone pilot. This is a legal requirement and the licence is awarded by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
You’ll have to book onto a training course with a flight school in order to get our PfCO licence. These flight schools are often referred to as National Qualified Entities (NQEs) and the length of the course will depend from one provider to another. Most courses take two or three days to complete.
The first step will be the Ground Training which usually takes two days and comprises theory learning in a classroom setting (though some NQEs provide this part of the course as a virtual, online learning experience). You’ll learn all about aviation laws, safety practices and how the weather affects piloting a drone. Once you’ve completed the learning part, you’ll need to do a theory examination to test you on what you’ve learned so far.
You’ll also need to create an Operations Manual to submit to the CAA as part of your PfCO application. The Operations Manual should detail the procedures you will follow on a flight by flight basis, and outlines your emergency strategies. Your training provider will guide you on how to do this.
Once you’ve passed the theory test, you’ll need to do a flight assessment – this will usually take place a couple of weeks after you’ve completed the Ground Training. The flight assessment is how you will be tested on your ability to plan and perform a drone flight in a safe manner and your ability to handle emergency situations. Your examiner will ask you to demonstrate a range of different manoeuvres so ensure that you’re capable of doing so. You will probably need to take out insurance for the flight assessment.
Once you’ve passed your flight assessment and completed the Operations Manual, you’ll need to take out commercial drone insurance before you can send off your licence application to the CAA. There are already several insurance companies providing specialised drone cover, ranging from annual cover to pay-as-you-fly options.
When you’ve completed all the above steps, it’s time to apply for a PfCO licence which you can do by post or digitally online on the CAA’s website. Your application should be processed within 10 days to 2 weeks and, once you’ve received your licence, you can begin to look for jobs as a drone pilot or launch your own business providing this service to roofing companies, homeowners, events organisers, etc.