Delighted to say that I’ve passed the practical and theoretical elements of my drone certification. Having spent months practising the manoeuvres in the wide open spaces of the Shropshire countryside I replicated those performances within the much tighter confines of a field neighbouring a hotel garden in Chester with views of motorways and the decidedly un-medieval end of the historic city. My practical test was interrupted by an irate farmer who demanded to know what we were doing flying at 100m height over his field, provoking a ten minute hiatus, a battery change and a retest. Stressed? Moi?
The process of drone certification is fairly arduous in that Drone Flying is no different from helicopter flying in the sense that you’re using airspace that may be shared by other aircraft and you are at the controls of a machine that is basically an airborne brush cutter if used irresponsibly. Quite rightly the CAA take this very seriously indeed, every pilot from airliners to helicopters to drones is operating under the jurisdiction of the CAA, even hobbyists and it is mandatory to have permission to fly commercial operations if you are going to hire yourself out.
The CAA certify a number of organisations to deliver training and it is mandatory to go through a certified education provider in order to progress. I took an online course provided by 3iC that delivered the required knowledge of the regulatory framework around drone flying, meteorology, principles of flight, aerodynamics, safe flying practises, human/machine interfaces, map reading and orienteering. It was also required to read and learn the salient points of the Air Navigation Order (Law) with particular attention to CAP 722, CAP 393 and CAP 382. There is a lot of information encapsulated here and this course was ended by an on-line exam which has to be passed in order to take the next, practical phase.
The practical phase was delivered by Phantom Flight School in Chester, qualified pilots licensed by 3iC – this intensive course begins with an exam based upon the learning acquired on-line. The exam is sat under exam conditions, closed book, no notes, iPhones or talking. The passport was 75%, with marks deducted for every wrong answer (to dissuade candidates from filling in every possible answer!) Happily I scored 94.4%.
The practical exam for drone certification although nerve wracking, is not terribly hard, but ruthlessly exposes muddled thinking. The manoeuvres require clear ordered thinking to complete and one wrong turn fails you! The hardest bit for most people is flying on ATTI (Attitude mode) without GPS stabilisation. You’re 100 metres high being blown hither and thither by unpredictable winds and you have to maintain firstly a stationary position, then keep a straight course through a simple square manoeuvre. This takes practice – and beware, the wind up there is a lot stronger than it is at ground level. This exam is a simple pass or fail and despite nerves and an unscheduled interruption from an angry farmer I passed.
The final phase is the completion of the Operations Manual and submission to the CAA for Permission to Fly Commercial Operations. You have to have 12 months insurance in place to submit the manual so the cost of the whole shebang including hotel for the duration of the course is north of £2000. The drone and accessories are another £2000 on top so this is not something to take lightly.
Drone Certification has been a long road, but a worthwhile journey. I’m waiting for my certificates to arrive from 3iC which will take a week or so, then another month waiting for the CAA to process my application. We should be good to go by October 1st. We’re using a DJI Phantom 4 Pro Drone which delivers 4k video and RAW images. We’ll be adding an Inspire 2 in due course, watch this space!
Update: PfCO (Permission to conduct commercial operations) granted 29/9/17 – Ref no: UAV5018