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Passing my PfCO – Permission for Commercial Operation

Drone picture

Passing my PfCO – Permission for Commercial Operation

I recently attained my PfCO from the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority), which is the Permission for Commercial Operation of a SUSA (Small Unmanned Surveillance Aircraft).

What all of these acronyms and initialisms means, in short, is that I’m now able to use a drone commercially in the UK. In order to use a drone for any sort of commercial work, whether that’s being paid for your services or receiving some sort of services in kind, you need to be licenced and insured.

So what did all of this entail, and why do you have to do it?

The PfCO requires four steps in order to apply and have one granted. The first of these steps is the theory test. I took a two-day course with a company called ICARUS in Chorley, which was about an hour away from our office in Ellesmere Port. The course worked through several modules on matters such as weather patterns, safe flying, identifying no-fly zones and areas of airspace that have different permission levels, and all of the things that can go wrong with the operation of a drone.

When you first buy a drone, you’re able to send the thing up into the air within a few minutes, without any knowledge or understanding of what you need to do to obey the law, or what can go wrong. With drones becoming more popular in the UK, it’s only a matter of time before something happens that causes a swift tightening of the rules. They are dangerous and could potentially cause a loss of life. For example, if a 2kg drone loses power at 400ft and shuts down, it will drop like a stone and could cause a fatality if it hits someone, or worse if it’s over a road.

Anyhow, the potential risks aside, I passed the theory test with 94%. I think the fact I had already flown both a plane and a helicopter, and had a basic understanding of how helicopters worked already, probably stood me in good stead.

The next step was to pass a practical assessment. This involved taking on a ‘fake’ job, and treating it as if it was real. I had to assess the area for risks, check the weather, produce a pre-flight survey and undertake a risk assessment. All of my paperwork had to be in order to show I understood the risks and that I was safe to fly. Once this was completed, I had to demonstrate my flying ability on site, with the GPS (Global Positioning System) switched off. This had to be switched off as it’s more difficult to control, especially in windy conditions, and I had to prove I was able to safely pilot the drone should there be a GPS failure.

This was difficult, especially as we did suffer some high winds on the day. Once again, I passed this part of the test.

The third aspect was to produce an Operations Manual, detailing everything we intended to do with the drone and the procedures we would follow. Luckily, producing content is something we do all the time at Engage Web, so this was probably the easiest part of the process – even if it was very time consuming. The manual came in at around 40 pages, and was very comprehensive. This needed to be checked by the guys at ICARUS before it could be submitted to the CAA, together with my certificates of completion, in order to be granted my PfCO.

The final part was the insurance. I needed to take out specific drone insurance, with full public liability, before I could submit my application for my PfCO.

All of this took about six weeks from start to finish, before I was granted my PfCO and I can now operate a drone commercially for clients, for video and photography. Below are some examples of both I have performed recently, to give you an idea of the sort of work we can do.

If you’d like some aerial photography, or aerial video, of your business then please get in touch. We’d love to help.

Darren Jamieson

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