With the continued increase to qualified commercial drone operators, it is clear that the UK drone industry is attracting the attention of many a forward-thinking individual and organisation up and down the country. On one hand we are seeing people give up their 9 to 5 jobs to fulfil their dream of running their own independent drone service business; on the other hand we see organisations adopting their own in-house drone programmes. Whilst the scale of these 2 areas of adoption differ considerably, there are fundamental considerations that both must explore when adopting commercial drone technology, and it is important to look beyond the cost of the required hardware itself.
In this post, we aim to answer the common questions that we get from people looking to adopt drones for commercial use.
What is a commercial drone?
The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) defines commercial drone use as any use of a drone “in return for remuneration or other valuable consideration.” Commercial drone use applies to any activity that is performed under a contract between an operator and a customer, where the latter has no control over the operator.
Commercial drone use applies to a wide range of activities that enable:
- A profit through the sale of video footage or images
- Provision of any kind of commercial service
- The monitoring of a business project
Industry examples of commercial drone use include:
- Wedding photography/videography
- Land surveying
- Pest control
- Utilities inspection
How much does a commercial drone cost?
Clearly, one of the most important (and exciting) decisions that will be made is in relation to the drone equipment that you will purchase from the outset. With a large and varied array of equipment on the market, it is critical that you have a clear vision of exactly what you intend to use your drone for before making an investment.
Having a clear idea of what you will use your drone for will define the type of equipment that you need and in turn, will ensure that you squeeze every last drop of potential the technology has to offer.
To put some numbers around what you can expect to pay for some of the current leading drone platforms:
- An entry level drone, such as the Phantom 4 or Mavic 2 from DJI can be purchased for as little as £1200. Alternatively, for those who need to fly in inclement weather, the PowerEgg X Wizard from PowerVision is a great option and can be purchased for as little as £1000. This gets you a reliable and easy to use drone that is loaded with useful functionality, and has an in-built camera for high resolution still images and Ultra HD video
- The two DJI products mentioned above are also available as more advanced variants, designed for specific industry uses, such as crop analysis in agriculture with the Phantom 4 Multispectral or night time patrols in security with the Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual. You can expect to pay between £3500 up to £7000 for these more specialist products
- At the upper end, you will be purchasing an industrial-grade drone, which is designed to be used with a range of industrial-grade cameras and sensors for ultimate user flexibility. A good example of this type of product is the Matrice 200 V2 series from DJI. You can expect to pay between £5000 and £10,000 for this platform, depending on the variant. With regard to cameras and/or sensors for the Matrice drone, there’s a huge array of compatible devices – some of the typical examples:
- For a basic camera, such as the Zenmuse X5S, you can expect to pay around £1700
- For a high power zoom camera, such as the Zenmuse Z30, you can expect to pay around £2000
- Things get a little more complicated when it comes to thermal imaging. Different applications call for different products, but for a leading product like the Zenmuse XT2, you can expect to pay between £6000 and £12,500, depending on thermal resolution and thermal frame rate requirements
Do I need a licence for a drone in the UK?
At the time of writing, if you intend to fly a drone commercially, you must obtain a ‘Permission for Commercial Operation’ (or PfCO). This is an official permission distributed by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (or CAA); the organisation who oversee and regulate all aspects of civil aviation in the UK. Without this permission, it is currently illegal to fly a drone for commercial purposes.
How do I get my commercial drone pilot licence in the UK?
The process is relatively straightforward – prospective drone operators need to complete a drone training course with theory and practical assessments, which is delivered by an authorised training provider known as a Recognised Assessment Entity (RAE). On this course, you will learn everything you need to know about operating a drone safely and within the rules.
Successful completion of the course modules and requisite assessments will provide you with a General Visual Line of Sight Certificate (GVC). A GVC acts as proof of pilot competency and can be used as part of your application to the CAA for Permission for Commercial Operation (PfCO).
How much is a commercial drone “licence”?
The cost of the aforementioned training varies quite significantly, as different training providers offer different course structures. So, depending on your requirements, you can expect to pay anywhere in the region of £900 to £1600 per aspiring drone pilot, but the best advice we can offer is to always look for the company that comes with the best possible credentials, and whose course options meet your specific needs.
In addition to the training cost, the CAA also charge an initial application fee. At the time of writing this article, the ‘Standard Permission’ fee is set at £253. Permissions lasts for 12 months, at which point a renewal fee (currently £190) must be paid.
As a guideline, we have included the below costs for specific drone courses:
- A2 Certificate of Competency Course (A2 CofC) – £250 (ex VAT)
- General Visual Line of Sight Course (GVC) – £900 (ex VAT)
- Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO) – Course no longer running
How much does drone insurance cost in the UK?
This is another important requirement for commercial drone operators.
To fly commercially, you will need an insurance policy that is compliant with “Regulation (EC) 785/2004”. Most operators can expect to pay in the region of £600 to £1000, but this depends on the specific policy.
What is the salary of a drone pilot?
There are several factors that will determine the potential earnings of a drone pilot. The most significant factors include the industry in which you choose to specialise and whether you work as a freelance pilot or as an addition to a specialist role for which you are already qualified. Whatever your reason for entering the world of commercial drone work, the role of a qualified drone pilot is fast becoming a demand for many organisations, and the salary you can earn will certainly reflect this.
In our experience, the most successful freelance drone pilots are those that are not only skilled drone operators, but who are also acutely aware of the problems faced by the clients they are setting out to help with their services.