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What’s the best way to train as a commercial drone pilot?

Last updated on

January 10, 2017


    There are lucrative, exciting opportunities out there for anyone who wants to train as a commercial drone pilot. Drones, or UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) are the technology of the future. Anyone can train to fly them and the demand for skilled drone pilots is constantly growing.

    If you want to work as a professional drone pilot, you’ll need to obtain a drone licence from the CAA, called the Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO). Just like learning to drive, you’ll need professional training to help you pass a theory test and practical tests, but there are a lot of drone courses in the UK and the different options can be confusing.

    If you’re looking into a new career as a drone pilot, you’ll also discover that it’s about more than flying a drone. Most professional drone pilots are self-employed, so you’ll need to know how to run your own business and find your own customers. More importantly, to attract the best clients and big money contracts, you’ll need to offer some serious, specialist skills. The only way to learn these skills is through professional drone pilot training.

    Here we take an in-depth look at what to consider when looking into commercial drone pilot training in the UK, including how to choose the best course provider, why investing in specialist skills training is the way to make real money and how you can build a business that keeps on growing.

    Drone piloting is the job of the future

    The time for drone technology is now. According to consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the commercial drone market will be worth US$127 billion worldwide by 2020.

    Drones are transforming industries such as construction, agriculture, infrastructure, security and surveillance, transport, media and TV, telecoms, mining and insurance. With automation expected to make many jobs obsolete in the next decade, drones are a growth industry you can rely on.

    The training you need to fly drones commercially

    To become a commercial drone pilot you’ll need to take a CAA certified course to obtain your Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO), previously known as Permission for Aerial Work (PfAW). Most providers offer CAA training courses which are more or less the same and teach you generic drone flying skills, using one drone.

    Some drone training providers, however, will offer packages that include the advanced piloting, software, business and marketing skills to help you launch your business and attract customers.

    What a basic CAA PfCO training course covers

    All CAA PfCO training courses include:

    • A theory training course lasting between one and three days (also known as ‘ground school’) followed by a theory examination.

    • Practical flight training (also known as ‘flight school’) which is designed to prepare you for your practical flight assessment and examination.

    Flight training varies widely in scope and quality and can be unstructured, so research carefully what you’re being offered.

    Some providers will leave you to arrange your own flight assessment. Others will offer a more convenient package that includes the flight assessment on the final day of your training.

    What advanced providers can offer you alongside PfCO

    • The opportunity to fly multiple drones and learn the advantages of each one
    • Business skills: planning, marketing, practical business management, winning customers
    • Training in specialist, advanced skills that increase your earnings and attract customers
    • Continuous Personal Development (CPD): lifelong training to meet your business goals

    How do you make serious money? Invest in serious drone skills

    The formula for success with drones is simple: The more training you invest in, the more money you will earn, by offering your customers services such as 4K video, inspection data, live video feeds, thermal imaging, aerial mapping and 3D modelling.

    Here are a few specialist skills that will make your drone business fly from day one:

    Drone inspection skills

    Drones make inspections fast, low-cost and low-risk for your clients, so the demand is enormous. Learning the flight skills you’ll need for different inspections, whether it’s a mobile phone mast, a construction site or a farmer’s field, will help you access a large and growing pool of customers.

    3D mapping with drones

    There’s an equally huge demand for geo-referenced 3D maps, which save your clients money compared to traditional surveying. Learning how to use your drone to capture data and create 3D models will help you to build your new customer base straight away.

    Drone filming

    Learning to fly a drone won’t make you a cameraman. If you want to specialise in broadcast quality drone filming, you’ll need advanced skills. Successful drone camera operators travel worldwide, filming for productions such as the BBC’s Planet Earth II, but they must learn their craft first.

    Drone post-production skills

    Your customer is only interested in the quality of the end product you give them. In filming, that means learning how to edit your raw drone footage and transform it into a high quality video product that tells a story.

    What provider should I choose for my drone pilot training?

    There are so many providers offering drone courses in the UK that it can be confusing. While it may seem like they all offer the same thing, there are real differences in the standard and experience of training providers, as well as the quality, depth and flexibility of their training.

    Some only offer the most basic, generic CAA drone training required for the PfCO, while others offer much more. As well as first-rate flying skills, they’ll give you the tools you need to plan your new business thoroughly, choose the right drone hardware and software, find new customers and launch a successful operation from day one.

    Questions to ask when researching UK drone courses

    Here are some vital questions to ask when researching drone or UAV courses and providers:

    Does the course match my experience level?

    If you’re new to drones, you’ll need to log more flying hours than if you have previous aviation experience, so choose a provider who offers different entry points based on your existing skill set. You don’t want to waste time and money learning things you don’t need or find yourself catapulted into a course that’s buy norvasc 5mg pitched above your head.

    Is there support for learning difficulties and disabilities?

    If you have a learning difficulty such as dyslexia or dyspraxia, choose a provider who will tailor a course to your needs by offering extended examination times and exam papers in colour, with enlarged text and particular fonts, for example. If you have a disability, choose a provider who is sensitive your needs and will provide venues and facilities that are easily accessible.

    Will the course I’ve chosen help me launch my business?

    The CAA training courses offered by many providers don’t include the business skills to get your new career off the ground. Other providers will offer drone business start-up training as part of the CAA PfCO course, as well as additional business modules which may include:

    • how to market your business – internet marketing, social media, branding, advertising, promotion and networking
    • what prices to charge your customers
    • how to manage your time
    • how to manage customers, employees and colleagues
    • how to expand and grow in the long-term

    Is Continuous Professional Development (CPD) included?

    Any training provider can offer a one-off course, but what happens after that? A partner who offers lifelong CPD (Continuous Professional Development) will give you the peace of mind of knowing your skills are always cutting edge and relevant to your customers. By helping you to develop your professional skills and target high-value customers, while keeping you abreast of changes in technology, drones and legislation, a good training provider will be a long-term partner who helps you to take advantage of new business opportunities whenever they appear.

    Do I have to pay the full cost upfront?

    Drone pilot training is a serious investment. Many drone providers will demand you pay the full cost of training upfront, but others will offer ways to spread the cost in affordable monthly repayments.

    Which drone should I choose?

    A good training provider can help you to choose the best drone for the specific industries and tasks you want to use it for, to make sure your drone gets you the work you’re looking for. New drone pilots often buy a drone without knowing how they want to use it commercially. This is getting things the wrong way round. Drone equipment is a big investment, so it’s important to plan how you’re going to make money with drones first.

    What about software?

    New drone pilots often focus on drone hardware and forget about the software. To offer 3D mapping, for example, Pix4D is the premium software to create accurate 3D maps from drone flight data. It’s a specialist tool that demands specialist knowledge, so you’ll need the training to master it.

    Should I choose the nearest provider to me?

    It’s natural to want to train locally, but it may be more useful to choose a training centre that offers practical flight training and theory training at the same location, so you can take your practical and theory tests close together, rather than months apart at different locations.

    What about the other people on the drone course?

    You’ll invest time in drone pilot training, so it’s worth spending it with like-minded people with similar goals. This won’t just make the experience more fun; it will improve your skills and your confidence. You’ll learn from each other by sharing knowledge and you’ll start to build a valuable network of contacts and colleagues who can help you in your new business.

    Residential or non-residential?

    Residential courses are more expensive, as they include accommodation, but they have the advantage of being away from your normal routine and distractions, so you’ll learn more in a concentrated period. You’ll spend more time with other pilots, so you can discuss the skills you’re learning and share your knowledge in a relaxed, sociable setting. Plus, it will be fun!

    How long does drone pilot training take?

    With the right provider, it can be as fast as you want to make it. An established provider may offer a choice of course modules in a package tailored to your needs, so you’ll get everything at the same time and in one place, instead of attending lots of drone courses at different times and locations.

    Quick drone training checklist: What to look for

    • Weigh up different drone courses and providers carefully. They’re not all the same!
    • Consider the differences between basic drone courses and advanced packages
    • Will the course help you set up and plan your business?
    • Will the course help you choose the right drone and equipment?
    • Does the course cover the specialist skills that will earn you more money?
    • Does the provider offer Continuous Professional Development (CPD)?
    • Does the course match your experience level?
    • Does the course offer support for learning difficulties or disabilities?
    • Do you have to pay upfront, or are there finance options?
    • Does the course location and duration work for you?

    How COPTRZ supports you through commercial drone pilot training

    If you were to consider COPTRZ as your drone training partner, we make this commitment to all drone pilots:

    • We’ll listen and make sure we understand your needs and goals
    • We’ll tailor our training to your abilities, knowledge and what you want to achieve
    • We’ll guide you through each step of the CAA PfCO process, as fast as you want to make it
    • We’ll help you set up your business using the right tools to achieve success
    • We’ll give you the skills your customers want, today and in the future
    • We’re here for the long haul, providing you with lifelong support and advice as you need it.

    Discover our range of flexible, modular training packages.

    Talk to us for no-commitment advice.

    If you’re looking into drone pilot training, get in touch for friendly, no-commitment advice from our expert team.

    Whatever stage you’re at, whether you’re new to drones, you fly drones as a hobby or you’re a CAA qualified pilot looking to move into UAVs, we’re here to help your new career take off.


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