How to become a commercial drone pilot?

In recent years, the demand for commercial drone pilots has increased, as more businesses recognise the many benefits of using drones for applications like stockpile surveys, precision farming, and security patrols.

Professionals working across a diverse range of sectors including security, construction, and quarrying are now using aerial intelligence to do business.

As a result, there are a host of opportunities for commercial drone pilots. Various industry analyses indicate that this demand is only set to grow.

To become a commercial drone pilot, you will need a commercial drone pilot’s licence (or to use the technical term; “Operational Authorisation”), valid insurance, a high-performance drone that has the capability of producing high-quality, reliable data, and depending on the application; a robust software product to transform the collected imagery into data that is usable. You must also ensure you are aware of the regulations and restrictions that apply to each flight you plan to conduct.

If you’re considering becoming a commercial drone pilot, we’ve created a helpful guide outlining everything that you need to know.

What does a commercial drone pilot do?

Professional commercial drone pilots fly drones for companies in a range of industries and for several purposes. Today, there are plenty of job opportunities in this sector and it’s certainly an exciting industry to be a part of. The role is incredibly varied and can take you all over the world.

Many companies hire drone pilots for a wide range of purposes including obtaining aerial photos and videos for marketing purposes and some companies now use drones for surveillance and security purposes too.

The vast majority of commercial drone pilots work on a freelance basis, with companies hiring them on a project by project basis. However, as the technology becomes more accessible, and the legislation easier to interpret, organisations are starting to recruit pilots as part of their own in-house drone operations.

What do you need to become a commercial drone pilot?

To become a commercial drone pilot, you need the following:

  • A drone license / Operational Authorisation
  • Commercial drone insurance
  • Drone fitted with a suitable camera and/or sensor
  • Depending on the application; a suitable software product

The requirements above are non-negotiable and it’s important that you always have these to hand.

By law, commercial drone pilots must have permission from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) who controls the use of airspace in the UK – this includes the use of drones. If you don’t comply with the CAA’s regulations, you could face significant fines and may even receive a jail sentence. This applies even if you have been granted permission from the landowner to film and fly.

The required permission from the CAA is known as an Operational Authorisation. This must be renewed each year.

How to get your commercial drone license?

To get a commercial drone license in the UK, all aspiring commercial drone pilots need to train with a dedicated training provider, known as a Recognised Assessment Entity (RAE).

The CAA doesn’t run these training courses – instead, they appoint companies to deliver the requisite training and to conduct pilot competency assessments on their behalf.

Training information

Many private training organisations run courses that will allow you to gain the knowledge, skills, and experience you need to become a successful commercial drone pilot. Training generally lasts between two and four days.

As part of your training, you will cover the following topics:

  • UK air law
  • Flight safety
  • Flight planning
  • Creation of an Operations Manual
  • A theory test and practical flight skills assessment

During the assessments, you will need to show that you have the skills and knowledge to work as a commercial drone pilot. As part of the training, you will learn about the relevant air laws and regulations, and how to safely operate a drone in various environments and circumstances. You will also be required to complete a test flight and prepare an operations manual describing how you are going to conduct your drone flights in a safe and proficient manner.

What qualifications do you need?

As well as your license, many freelance drone projects also require at least 40 hours of experience of flying drones, along with at least 40 hours of recorded flying time. If you can get both day and night flying experience this is looked upon favourably for many roles.

How long does it take to become a commercial drone pilot?

Ultimately, the time it takes to achieve the end goal depends on the time and effort you put into the training process. The regulatory training itself comprises two days spent training in the classroom, followed by a half-day practical assessment. Upon submitting your application to the CAA, you can expect to receive your Operational Authorisation from the CAA within 2 or 3 weeks.

What happens once you have completed your training?

Once you have successfully completed your training with your chosen training body, you will then be able to apply for the Operational Authorisation with the CAA. If you are using your new qualification to apply for freelance jobs, you will need to present this document to your customer.

If, on the other hand, you are applying for a drone pilot role within a company that already has a commercial drone capability, you will simply need to present your certificate of pilot competency, known as the General Visual Line of Sight Certificate. The GVC is valid for 5 years.

Why choose RAWview?

Here at RAWview, we provide commercial solutions for your business by helping you unlock the true potential of drone technology. Whatever your industry, our specialist team can work with you to find the best equipment and software for your needs. Get in touch today to find out more.

Make your case...

Download our Business Case For a Drone Programme whitepaper

Ready to speak to one of our experts? Get in touch today.