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

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 or 01603 881985 for ALL your drone training needs!

Elliott – The Aerial Academy

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 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

The Civil Aviation Authority Operating Safety Case for UK drone operations

As promised in my last post, here is the beginnings of a post on the operating safety case (OSC) which has been introduced by the CAA in the revised CAP 722 publication. I will try to be as accurate as I can, but as always there are a few grey areas so please contact the CAA for final confirmation! Please consider this post a work in progress!

The idea of the OSC is that it allows commercial drone operators in the UK to apply for an annual exemption to your standard permission that allows you to operate outside the limitations of your standard Permission for Aerial Work. Previously, exemptions were issued on a case by case basis, which has led to an almost unmanageable workload. The most obvious example is it is currently not permitted to fly a 7-20Kg drone in a congested area. This has led to the dangerous practice of weight-stripping; running fairly heavy drones on smaller battery capacities and stripping unnecessary (!??) weight in order to bring a drone below 7Kg (which DOES include batteries by the way, whatever people try to tell you!). A case in point here is the DJI S900 which naturally and comfortably comes in somewhere around 7.5Kg with a Zenmuse and GH4 with a sensible amount of batteries. I find it very hard to justify weight-stripping in order to claim that a machine running with dangerously low battery redundancy is now safer! The operating safety case would allow you to submit procedures for operating the 7-20Kg machine within the congested area. In order to do so you will have to incorporate extra risk mitigation in the design of your aircraft and/or through your operational procedures.

A congested area is defined by the CAA as “any area of a city, town or settlement which is substantially used for residential, industrial, commercial or recreational purposes”. Now, technically that means a town-based golf course is a congested area. This makes sense if you are flying a 747 but probably not when flying an S1000. But, whatever we think, those are the rules.

The OSC is not limited purely to 7-20Kg could also be used to apply for reduced separation distances across the 0-20Kg spectrum., increased working height, EVLOS etc. The idea is that the CAA is moving towards a “concept of operations” (ConOps) approach so that the mass boundaries themselves become relatively unimportant and the key aspect is risk.

conops approach

Figure 1: ConOps approach to drone operations (CAA CAP722)

As you can see from this graph, the right-hand side above 20Kg is irrelevant to most users at present.

So, there are three risk categories, A, B and C. Three factors increase the risk of a given operation:

  • Increasing aircraft mass
  • Increasing aircraft technical complexity
  • Increasing operating environment complexity

So, basically, if you are running a Phantom in a farmer’s field in Norfolk the risk will probably fall into category A. If you are running a 19.9Kg machine beyond line of sight in central London it will be C. It is likely that most people’s operations will fall into category A or B.

I’ll pick that up again later.

The next stage of the OSC is the paperwork you need to produce to submit to the CAA.

The paperwork is divided into three volumes:

  1. Volume 1: The Operations Manual
  2. Volume 2: Systems information
  3. Volume 3: Safety Assessment

The CAA have provided templates in the appendices B-D of CAP 722.

Volume 1 is effectively what we have been writing for 0-20Kg operations up until now. If you wish to apply for a standard PfAW, it is all you need to complete.

Volume 2 should contain as much information as possible about the RPAS you wish to be covered by the OSC. The main focus should be on risk mitigation so your volume 2 could include (but isn’t limited to):

  • Mass considerations
  • Failsafe features
  • Any design and manufacturing standards
  • Full details of the flight envelope (where and how it can be used)
  • Payload details
  • Full aircraft details
  • Single points of failure
  • Additional safety features etc.

Full information can be found in appendix C of CAP 722 but the CAA want you to fully understand your machine, its limitations, how it functions and how it can be made as safe as possible.

Volume 3 gives details of your safety management beyond the aircraft itself and includes sections for risk assessment and self assessment. So, effectively, the idea is to assess as fully as possible the risks associated with the operations you wish to include in your OSC and also to assess the limitations of your crew and procedures. A template is available in appendix C of CAP 722. As you will be applying for an annual OSC it is probably best to try to envisage what you are likely to want to do and to think generically rather than too specifically at first, so think of the type of location you are going to fly at rather than specific locations. Are there any common safety issues between sites. for most people it will tend to be proximity issues that need to be risk assessed.

Going back to the graph from earlier (figure 1), the aim of your volumes 2 and 3 should be to develop equipment and/or procedures that mitigate the risks associated with either the increased mass or increased environmental complexity.

I will try to add to this soon to give more detail on risk matrices and the self assessment method preferred by the CAA. I’m afraid we can’t give direct assistance with individual operating safety cases at the moment as every case is likely to be different and the CAA really want you to take ownership of the process.

This information is as correct as we can get it at the time of publication but may be out of date by the time you read it so please check current guidelines and feel free to contact us if you need more information.

Fly safe!

Elliott- HexCam

To be continued… probably!

The changing face of UK drone pilot qualifications

My original post about routes through to obtaining a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) Permission for Aerial Work (PfAW) is now a little out of date! A lot has changed in UK drone legislation in the last few months so I thought I’d put out a bit of an update. I will try to keep this simple but things seem to have got messier than ever really.

So, let’s start at the end! At present, in order to operate any drone commercially in the UK you need to obtain a PfAW. The PfAW is divided into two categories; 0-7Kg and 7-20Kg. The 0-7Kg permission is slightly less restrictive but still sets high safety expectations.

In March 2015 the Civil Aviation Authority updated their core UAS guidance publication, CAP 722.

One change detailed in CAP 722 means that operators who already have manned aviation experience have the opportunity to take an alternative route to a PfAW. So if you already have a PPL, CPL, microlight licence, gliding qualification or military experience you may be able to go through our flight assessment only process. Please see page 47 of CAP 722 for more details or give us a call to find out more!

Another change is that operators who hold a BMFA A or B certificate for the type of aircraft they wish to fly can now apply directly to the CAA for a PfAW with no further qualifications or assessment necessary. for multirotors, either a helicopter or multirotor A certificate is acceptable.

A further change means that it is no longer necessary to pass assessments on every aircraft you wish to fly or to inform the CAA if you wish to use new aircraft within your assessed categories. One assessment per category (0-7Kg or 7-20Kg) is all you need. there is no requirement to renew your pilot qualification annually as long as you keep your currency up-to-date: at least 2 hours flying every three months. You are required to renew your PfAW annually.

So what do you actually need to do to get a PfCO?

Ah, you noticed the change from PfAW to PfCO! As of August 2016, it is now called a Permission for Commercial Operations.

The CAA are interested in four areas that they call critical elements:

  1. Theoretical knowledge
  2. Initial practical flight assessment
  3. Operations manual
  4. Experience requirement

You apply for a PfCO using form SRG 1320.

So, let’s try to be logical.

As far as the CAA are concerned, in terms of the critical elements above:

  • If you have a BMFA A or B certificate, you already have 1, 2 and probably 3 if you are a regular flyer. If not, get out and fly. I would strongly recommend you read CAP 722 before applying though. You still need to apply and get your PfCO before operating commercially.
  • If you are involved in manned aviation you probably already have 1. You need to get a flight assessment which we can do for you. Get yourself up to speed on the latest UK drone legislation by reading CAP 722 as working outside your aircraft changes things slightly! You will need to make sure you get adequate experience on your RPAS before the assessment. If your manned qualification is expired you will need to contact the CAA to find out if they will accept it. They will not accept expired PPLs, if they expired before 31st December 2009.
  • If you have no previous manned experience and no BMFA certificates, you will need to go through a qualification with one of the full NQEs listed below.

What is an NQE?

An NQE (a National Qualified Entity), is an organisation approved by the CAA to recommend people for a Permission for Commercial Operations.

Restricted NQEs

Restricted NQEs can carry out flight assessments for drone pilots who already have manned aviation experience as described above or satisfy the theoretical knowledge element in some other way. Restricted NQEs can’t offer theory assessment.

Full NQEs

Full NQEs can carry out theory and flight assessments for drone pilots who have no previous formal experience. The NQEs all have their own qualifications or certifications, which tend to differ in delivery style, but as far as the CAA are concerned they are all equally acceptable for applying for a permission for aerial work. Some NQEs claim their offerings are more internationally recognised but it is worth checking carefully with both the NQE and the aviation authority in any other countries you may wish to operate in. Prices and timescales of theory courses also vary with some NQEs using distance learning to enable a shorter theory course. The name of the qualification offered is in brackets.

The Aerial Academy (TAAC):

Whispercam (UAPQ-s): (now running courses at our Norwich location)

Aerial Motion Pictures (ICARUS):

Resource Group (RPQ-s):

Rheinmetall Technical Publications UK Ltd (RPCS):


What next?

Please feel free to contact us via The Aerial Academy if you need more information. We can also provide basic and advanced flight training and can recommend and supply drone equipment including most DJI equipment and a full custom build service.

I’ve heard about operating safety cases (OSC) what are those?

Basically, if you want to operate outside a standard PfAW, particularly flying 7-20Kg machines in congested areas or if you want to fly at greater heights or closer than standard distances you will require an OSC. Here is my blog post on operating safety cases, but I strongly recommend you read CAP 722 before embarking on any of this. It really is very helpful once you get your head around it!


As always, fly safe! This information is as correct as we can get it at the time of publication but may be out of date by the time you read it so please check current guidelines and feel free to contact us if you need more information.

Elliott – HexCam

UK telephone: 01603 881985

HexCam Ltd increases its range of drone training opportunities – introducing The Aerial Academy

The UK civil drone industry is undergoing a phase of exceptionally fast growth. HexCam Ltd started commercial operations in 2012, specialising in construction and environmental aerial photography and video using multirotor drones. Over the last three years the business has evolved to include flight training and consultancy. HexCam can provide basic flight training as well as advanced training to develop specific skills such as waypointed flight, survey flight and thermal imaging.

In March 2015, the Civil Aviation Authority changed its procedures so that pilots who already have manned aviation experience can take a simpler route to RPAS commercial operations.

HexCam Ltd director Elliott Corke is now a director of The Aerial Academy. On 24th April 2015 The Aerial Academy was granted restricted NQE status by the UK Civil Aviation Authority. This means we can now offer flight assessments to provide the evidence required to apply for a CAA permission for aerial work. This service could be particularly relevant for people who already have current or lapsed manned aviation experience such as an EASA or UK licence, military qualifications, glider licences etc.

Full details of the new paths to a permission for aerial work are available on page 20 of CAA Information Notice IN-2015/008. Please feel free to contact us if you think this may be relevant to you.

Drones are becoming more widely used in onshore and offshore construction, surveying and monitoring in a variety of industries. If you require more information on hiring drone operators, equipment supply or training and assessment please visit  or (01603 881985).


Elliott with some of HexCam's equipment

Elliott with some of HexCam’s equipment