What is a “Drone Licence” and do I (or my company) need one?

drone licence

What is a Drone Licence?

First of all, it’s important to point out that a ‘drone licence’ doesn’t actually exist in the UK, as this can be misleading. However, the term is regularly coined by those who don’t know how better to describe the CAA Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO) – as its full name can be a bit of a mouthful! The PfCO is granted by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to allow a drone pilot to undertake commercial work with their SUA (small unmanned aircraft), the official CAA term for a drone under 20kg.

Do I Need a Drone Licence?

Many drone pilots use their aircraft purely for recreational purposes, and if this is the case there’s no need to get your “drone licence”. All you need to do is make sure you’re operating your drone safely and within CAA regulations.

If you plan on turning your hobby into a career or are employed by a company who wants to enhance their business operations with drone solutions, then you will need a “drone licence” (PfCO). This applies even if the imagery gained is not your primary commercial activity e.g. an architect’s practice providing aerial images captured by drone as part of a package of work to a client.

The ability to commercially operate a drone safely and legally is extremely beneficial to you, your business and your clients. The knowledge obtained by professional training will help you operate more safely and efficiently. If you choose to operate commercially without a PfCO you are not only breaking the law, also exposing yourself , your company and potentially your client, to a large financial liability should anything go wrong, as you will be unable to hold the correct insurance. It is easy to see that failing to comply with drone regulations is not only against the law in the UK, but also very unsound business practice.

How Do I Get My Drone Licence?

The official CAA approved companies where you can be assessed for your PfCO are called National Qualified Entities or NQEs for short. Uplift Drone Training is a leading NQE in the United Kingdom. We provide high quality training courses to help you obtain your PfCO and ensure our students become skilled and knowledgeable SUA pilots. We will take you from basic drone awareness to complete commercial compliance with the UK CAA and the applicable laws. You can choose from 4 of our 6 drone training courses to gain your CAA PfCO (drone licence):

UDT Combined PfCO
We recommend students new to drone flying should take our UDT Combined PfCO course. This course is completed in 4 elements; Ground School, Practical Flight Training, Flight Test and Operations Manual, to ensure you become a competent and confident drone pilot.

UDT Fast Track PfCO
This is a high quality “essentials course” taught by experts that leads to full CAA PfCO qualification. The Fast Track PfCO course is completed in 3 elements; Ground School, Flight Test and Operations Manual.

UDT Abbreviated PfCO
This course is for persons who have a manned pilots licence or other qualification acceptable to the CAA (proof required). You are exempt from the ground school component of our PfCO training courses and are only required to submit an ops manual, perform a theory test and complete a flight test

UDT Commercial Enterprise
The combined UDT Commercial enterprise course is aimed at professionals and organisations across multiple industries, who require thorough training to gain competence in all elements of drone operations and mapping.

To find out more about our drone training courses, contact our friendly experts on 0330 111 8800 or [email protected] today!

Finally, Why Don’t the CAA Just Call the PfCO A “Drone Licence”?!

Good question! And one that we’re often asked… The reason is that Aviation Regulators like the CAA usually require a medical certificate to be held for an aviation licence. E.g. airline pilots are currently required to hold a “Class 1” medical to also hold their pilots licence. This isn’t the same with a Permission for Commercial Operations for drones. There are currently no medical standards* for a PfCO so you do not have to hold a medical certificate. As there is no requirement to hold a medical certificate for a PfCO, the term licence is not used officially for SUA in the UK.

*You must still be able to fly your drone safely and demonstrate any current medical conditions do not affect the safe operation of the drone.

Remember – the UK CAA does not issue ‘drone licences’. This term is widely used in reference to the Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO). This article aims to provide knowledge about the CAA PfCO.

Are you interested in a career as a professional drone pilot? Drone training courses will help you to gain the necessary skills and knowledge that employers are looking for. Don’t hesitate to book a course with Uplift Drone Training to give your new career a flying start!


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