We may be able to help EuroUSC students who are part way through training

The Aerial Academy has specialised in drone flight training  for three years, became a restricted NQE in April 2015 and has been a full NQE since October 2016. We run theoretical and practical training and assessment in Swansea, Norwich, Bristol, London and Manchester.

We understand that some EuroUSC students may be stuck mid-certification with the news that the company may be experiencing difficulties.

For students who have already passed the theoretical competence course, we may be able to carry out operational assessments.

We are also running full courses at various centres in the UK over the next few months.

Please contact us on 01603 881985 or office@theaerialacademy.com and we will do our best to help you.

Fly safe!


Confused about whether you need your PFCO or your PFAW?

If you have been researching drone training you will have come across a number of different terms; PFCO, PFAW, BNUC-s, CAA, etc. etc. and are probably a little confused right now. Well, don’t worry, we are here to help you see the wood for the trees.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

Actually, go and get a coffee first. This’ll still be here when you get back.

We often get asked if we can get people their drone licence or drone qualification? Did you know, in the UK, there is no such thing as a drone licence, or an official drone qualification?

The piece of paper you need to operate a drone commercially in UK airspace is called a Permission for Commercial Operations (PFCO). Until August 2016 this was known as a Permission for Aerial Work (PFAW). PFAWs will continue to be around until August 2017 as existing PFAWs will be converted to PFCOs on renewal.

In order to get your PFCO you have to demonstrate to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) that you are capable of operating safely in UK airspace, bearing in mind that our skies are a pretty busy place. So you have to demonstrate a few things to the CAA:

  1. Theoretical competence
  2. Practical competence
  3. Operations procedures (Ops Manual)
  4. A minimum of 2 hours flying in the 3 months prior to application

The ways of demonstrating these are shown on page 47 of CAP 722. If you already hold a manned pilot licence,or model aircraft qualifications you may be exempt from one or more of the above items.

For most people, however you will have to go to one of a number of CAA approved National Qualified Entities (NQEs) who can assist you with the first three bullet points above.

Warning, gratuitous plug for ourselves:

The Aerial Academy became a full NQE in October 2016, having been a restricted NQE for over a year and an operator since 2012. All our trainers are ,or have been, commercial drone operators in the UK, so we understand the practical application of the regulations and are really well placed to educate new pilots. We even got in the news look!

Plug over.

NQEs have training programmes that are approved by the CAA. The theory has to cover a set CAA syllabus and there must be a flight examination to show you can operate safely. Your NQE (pick us!!) will normally provide a theory course and exam, assist with preparation of your operations manual and carry out your flight examination. The different NQEs do this in slightly different ways, so the theory training varies from 1-3 days with differing amounts of online learning and self-study. The practical flight tests are all fairly similar. They don’t just test your flying, but the whole operational process from risk assessing a job through to flying and then post-flight checks and logs.

By the time you have finished your NQE course you should have a much better understanding of UK drone legislation and how to safely operate your drone in UK airspace.

So, your chosen NQE (us, right?) will help you with 1-3 above. We can also help you with practical flight training as well. That is not a requirement of the CAA but we can build practical flight training around your certification. We have been delivering drone flight training for a few years now under HexCam and there are some drone training testimonials on the HexCam website. With links to most of them so you can see they’re real and still going.

So, you’ve got 1-3 covered and then gone off to fly to build up your experience. What next?

As a full NQE, we can help you apply to the CAA and provide a recommendation that you are competent to operate in UK airspace. The CAA will accept recommendations from any of the full NQEs so thy don’t care if it is a BNUC-s, RPQ-s, UAPQ-s , a TAAC or whatever. It really doesn’t matter. In fact, the CAA has just provided standardised certificates for NQEs to give to candidates to demonstrate competence to the CAA.

I hope that helps to a degree. We can also advise on drone equipment as well if you need us to.

So a basic order for becoming a drone operator in the UK (assuming you don’t have any of the exemptions mentioned earlier):

  1. Write a business plan (a very important step most people don’t seem to think about)
  2. Choose your NQE (enough hints I think)
  3. Attend theory course and exam
  4. Complete operations manual (on our course you’ll do most of that over the two days)
  5. (Carry out flight training if necessary)
  6. Attend practical assessment (our fee includes insurance for your flight assessment)
  7. Obtain commercal drone insurance
  8. Complete application to CAA
  9. PFCO takes 4-5 weeks to be issued.

At some point in there you may need to source equipment. Let us know if you need help with that.

Costs you need to take into consideration:

Your drone: Probably £500 – £10,000 depending on your application.

Certification by a full NQE: Ours is £950+VAT, others vary a bit higher or lower, but do check what is included. There is no CAA requirement to renew your certification annually but you must maintain recency (about 2 hours flying every 3 months).

Insurance: £450+ per year depending on equipment. It is a young industry with a lot of unknown risks as far as insurers are concerned, so insurance can seem high at first.

CAA fee: Initial registration 0-7Kg – £112, 7-20Kg – £224. Renewal is annual and is at half the original fee.

If you are a manned pilot wanting to enter the drone industry, do give us a call to discuss what you need to do to.

Fly safe!

Any questions please call on 01603 881985 or email office@theaerialacademy.com

Elliott – The Aerial Academy



A little drone training announcement

The Aerial Academy is now a UK CAA approved full NQE. This means we can run the theoretical and practical assessments to enable you to apply for a Permission for Commercial Operations – PFCO – (previously known as the Permission for Aerial Work).

This has taken a lot of hard work by our wonderful team and we think we have put something together that will work really well!

Please contact us on office@theaerialacademy.com or 01603 881985 for ALL your drone training needs!

Elliott – The Aerial Academy

The battle of the portable selfie drones

Watch the live launch of the DJI Mavic here: http://live.dji.com/adventure/

Three selfie drones are going head to head this autumn. We have our own thoughts about which one will win. The competitors are the Yuneec Breeze, the GoPro Karma and the DJI Mavic.

I’m going to add more to this blog post as we find it out and as we get our hands on the drones. I don’t like to judge drones too much until I get my hands on them.




DJI Phantom and Inspire firmware update tutorials

First post in a while and it’ll be a quick one!

We get asked quite a lot about how to successfully update the DJI Phantom and DJI Inspire. As a result I made a quick video whilst carrying out the updates today. Hopefully done in such a way that you can follow along.

Some tablets seem to give particular issues when upgrading. I use a Google Nexus 7 and it works fine every time. So, below, is the video for upgrading the firmware on the Phantom 3 Professional and Advanced. Below that is the video for upgrading DJI Inspire 1 and Inspire 1 Pro.

Fly safe! Elliott – HexCam

Top class UK drone training, equipment and qualification combo!

The UK parliament may be sans coalition at the moment, but at The Aerial Academy, we believe that collaboration is king as it allows us all to play to our strengths. In fact, that’s how The Aerial Academy formed in the first place!

With that in mind we have put together a dream team for supplying drone equipment, training you up to a standard suitable for commercial aerial work in the UK and providing you a qualification recognised by the UK Civil Aviation Authority.

We have teamed up with our friends at Production Gear and Whispercam to put together a series of packages that are mouth-wateringly good.

There’s not much Production Gear don’t know about cameras and all the associated gubbins that go with them. They love to push the boundaries with new technology, so when they learned that cameras can fly, they got in early and are now one of the top suppliers of DJI drone equipment and other ground-based camera stabilisation systems. With direct access to DJI buying within the UK ensures that we can support you as well as possible if you have any technical issues.

The Aerial Academy provides drone training courses tailored to your needs. Whether you are an absolute beginner or a more experienced pilot looking to turn a hobby into a business, we can put something together for you. If the plans below don’t meet your needs, please get in touch and we’ll see what we can do. The Aerial Academy is now a UK CAA approved full NQE which means we can deliver a full process from beginner to your Permission for Commercial Operations.

Flight training, at present, is offered at our Norwich, Tetbury and Swansea locations and can be built around the supply of equipment and qualification course.

The information below is largely aimed at individuals. If you are part of a larger company that intends to put more than 6 or so pilots through training to operate under the same Permission for Aerial Work, please give us a call on 01603 673615 or email office@theaerialacademy.co.uk as we can build you a custom training and qualification programme either at your location or one of ours.

The below packages are for the most popular drones available at the moment. If the drone you are interested isn’t there, we can probably still get it and build a package for you. All flight training is type specific, giving you the opportunity to become familiar with the control systems of your chosen drone.

All packages include drone equipment supply and initial setup as part of the training to ensure that the hardware and software are functioning correctly. The assumption is most pilots will collect their drone at the training location on day 1 of training. Please see the bottom of this post for an example timeline.

Foot on the ladder: DJI Phantom 3 example Packages (combos are available with cases)

£3015+VAT (£3618 inc VAT): DJI Phantom 3 Professional + 3 days flight training + UAPQ-s

£2799+VAT (£3358.80 inc VAT): DJI Phantom 3 Advanced + 3 days flight training + UAPQ-s

£2590+VAT (£3108 inc VAT): DJI Phantom 3 Standard + 3 days flight training + UAPQ-s

Be Inspired: DJI Inspire 1 example packages

£4035+VAT (£4842 inc VAT): DJI Inspire 1 (single operator) + 3 days flight training + UAPQ-s

£4339+VAT (£5206.80 inc VAT): DJI Inspire 1 (dual operator) + 3 days flight training + UAPQ-s

£5133+VAT (£6159.60 inc VAT): DJI Inspire 1 Professional (X5 camera) (single operator) + 3 days flight training + UAPQ-s

£7465+VAT (£8958 inc VAT): DJI Inspire 1 Professional (X5R camera) (dual operator) + 3 days flight training + UAPQ-s

Reach for the sky: Custom and larger drones

If you are looking at larger drones such as the DJI S900 and S1000 or would like us to spec you up a custom drone, please let us know and we can tailor a package to your needs!

Example timeline:

  1. Purchase package via The Aerial Academy
  2. Decide on “knowledge” training and assessment date at your chosen Whispercam centre (Norwich and Cardiff are most logical if building a training package which could be in the same week as the knowledge day).
  3. Prepare for “knowledge” day
  4. Attend flight training (3 days)
  5. Attend knowledge day and hopefully pass the examination (1 day)
  6. Prepare Operations Manual
  7. Submit Operations Manual
  8. Source insurance (not included in package but we can provide contacts)
  9. Attend flight assessment at the same Whispercam centre and hopefully pass
  10. Once you have completed the knowledge aspect and the flight assessment you are awarded your UAPQ-s
  11. Apply to the CAA for your Permission for Aerial Work (costs £112 0-7Kg and £224 0-20Kg)

The time taken for a candidate to go through this process varies considerably but we will do our best to support you to succeed in your chosen timescale.

So in summary you get:

  1. A drone
  2. Top notch practical training
  3. A CAA recognised UAS qualification
  4. Support through the process of applying for your PFAW
  5. Access to some of the most knowledgeable people in the market to help you get your ideas off the ground.

We look forward to collaborating with you!

Elliott – The Aerial Academy

A Plethora of Phantoms

The DJI Phantom is now probably the most popular consumer drone on the planet but, with a new model coming out almost every month, which is the right one for you. This is a very quick summary of the different models based on my own experience. For further reading please have a look at the DJI products page. In the absence of a collective noun for Phantoms, I am suggesting a “plethora”! 🙂

DJI Phantom 1

The original DJI Phantom with Naza-M flight controller. No stabilised camera gimbal but does have a mounting bracket for GoPro. Uses standard lithium polymer batteries rather than the newer intelligent batteries. DJI are no longer producing them but you can pick them up cheaply on eBay so can make a good, cheap machine for learning basic flight skills. Flight times are short, but OEM batteries are cheap as chips!

DJI Phantom 2

The DJI Phantom 2 was a real game-changer in the consumer drone market. The “intelligent” batteries make for a simpler, if slower, charging experience and allow flight times of up to 23 minutes or so. Initially the H3-2D gimbal was frustrating as it gave a characteristic ‘headshake’ to the video as there was no yaw axis correction. However, the H3-3D and H4-3D gimbals really began to show what a small machine can do.

The Phantom 2 comes in two main flavours, the standard Phantom 2 carries a GoPro whereas the Phantom 2 Vision range (now discontinued) carry DJI cameras. The Vision range connect directly to a mobile phone or tablet using the DJI Vision APP whereas the GoPro versions require the addition of a 5.8GHz downlink.

The Phantom 2 is a great starter machine but as it contains the DJI Naza flight controller, the GPS hold and flight characteristics can occasionally be a little poor compared to the newer aircraft.  However, as they can be obtained from new at around £600 and probably cheaper in used condition, they can make a great starter machine for HD and 4K aerial videography. If you are looking for second hand Phantoms (always a risk in RC aircraft) I suggest you look out for the H3-3D or H4-3D options rather than the H3-2D as there is a marked improvement in video quality as mentioned earlier. Also, check carefully to see what accessories you are getting and if a downlink is included. People who are upgrading often strip downlinks to use on other aircraft.

It is also worth bearing in mind that the Phantom 2 batteries cannot be used in the Phantom 3 and vice-versa due to a change in voltage.

DJI Phantom 2 with H4-3D gimbal

DJI Phantom 2 with H4-3D gimbal

DJI Phantom 3

When a friend of mine told me to try a Phantom 3, I was a little sceptical, wondering how much better it could be. However, with an upgraded flight controller and a camera that is close to the quality of the DJI Inspire 1, it punches way above its weight. We have a DJI Phantom 3 and an Inspire 1 that we use for our drone flight training courses and they go down very well with both experienced and novice pilots.

The Phantom 3 has much improved flight characteristics and GPS hold than its predecessors and, again, comes in several flavours. The Phantom 3 Professional has the same 4K camera that is in the Inspire 1, but is only a single operator machine, whereas the Inspire can be operated either as a single or dual operator machine. The Phantom 3 Advanced has a 1080P camera, which is similar to that on the Phantom 3 Standard. However, the Phantom 3 Standard, which replaces the Phantom 2 Vision+, does not include the Lightbridge technology which is part of what makes the Phantom 3 such a leap forwards.

The Phantom 3 Professional and Advanced feature the Lightbridge, which allows a 720P HD downlink to a tablet or phone. The quality is much better than previous downlinks and even allows live streaming to Youtube. I do find, however, that sometimes there is a bit of latency on the digital downlinks that you don’t tend to get on the analogue downlinks.

The downside may be that there is no DJI system for adding ND filters to the Phantom 3, but there are aftermarket push-on filters available.

The Phantom 3 Professional and Advanced work on the same DJI Go APP as the Inspire. A bit of a difference on the transmitter, compared to the Inspire, is that the Phantom 3 has no HDMI out for live streaming to a monitor or other output device, but that can now be added with a small HDMI output upgrade module.

Personally, I purchased the DJI Phantom 3 Professional with extra battery and hard shell backpack. We recently took it on holiday with us and the backpack proved its worth, both in portability and protection.

DJI Phantom 3 Professional with free battery and hardshell backpack

DJI Phantom 3 Professional with free battery and hardshell backpack