Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (Drone) Operations

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If you are unable to pursue a career as an airborne pilot, opportunities are becoming increasingly available in both the civilian and military sectors for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (Drone) operations. There is no formal training required currently for hobbyist use, though you must adhere to rules of use about where and how high the UAV or drone can be flown.

If you are intending to use a drone for commercial purposes, it is a regulatory requirement to obtain CAA permissions. The CAA policy is enshrined in CAP 722 – Unmanned Aircraft System Operations in UK Airspace – Guidance which also covers Pilot Competence.

Operation of a drone for commercial work will require adherence to the Air Navigation Order and operators are required to demonstrate Evidence of Competency.

A number of organisations have been approved by the CAA as National Qualified Entities (NQE’s) to conduct assessments on operators, though the CAA allows NQEs flexibility in designing the test conditions. The applicant will have to demonstrate as part of the test the following skills:

  • Pre-flight actions including:
    • Mission planning, airspace considerations and site risk-assessment.
    • Aircraft pre-flight inspection and set-up (including flight controller modes and power-source hazards).
    • Knowledge of the basic actions to be taken in the event of an aircraft emergency or if a mid-air collision hazard arises during the flight.
  • In-flight procedures including:
    • Maintaining an effective look-out and keeping the aircraft within Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) at all times.
    • Performing accurate and controlled flight manoeuvres at representative heights and distances (including flight in ‘Atti’ mode (non-GPS assisted) or equivalent where fitted).
    • Real-time monitoring of aircraft status and endurance limitations. CAP 722 Approval to Operate March 2015 Page 43
    • Demonstration of a ‘return-to-home’ function following deliberate control link transmission failure. Fixed-wing aircraft may demonstrate an equivalent procedure that results in a suitable automated, low-impact descent and landing.
  • Post-flight actions including:
    • Shutting down/making-safe the aircraft.
    • Post-flight inspection and recording of any relevant data relating to aircraft general condition, aircraft systems, aircraft components and power sources, controller functionality and crew health and fatigue.
Courtesy of The Drone Co
Courtesy of The Drone Co

The level of competency is dictated by the size of the UAS:

Operating Mass (maximum)Pilot Competency / Licensing Requirements
7 kg or lessNone, or NQE competency assessment or AMC
More than 7 kg to 20 kgNone, RPL, NQE competency assessment or AMC
More than 20 kg to 150 kgRPL, NQE competency assessment or equivalent
More than 150 kgRPL or equivalent
NB Extract from CAA CAP 722

As with all things aviation safety is paramount and the CAP 722 Policy sets out the Human Factors that need to be taken in to account.

Further information is available in CAP 722 and there are a number of CAA approved training entities, who can provide approved training which are detailed on the CAA website here.

Interested in finding out more?

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