Commercial drones are an exciting new industry which offers the potential to build a dynamic services business without the need for massive capital investment. By 2030 business advisory firm PwC estimates that drones will contribute up to £42 billion to the UK economy.
Numbers like these entice entrepreneurs into the market, eager to get a piece of the action. But those looking to enter the market will soon realise you can’t just fly drones about in congested airspace without first getting approval from the CAA.
Drones are expensive pieces of equipment with the potential to cause damage to property and endanger life. So it is only right that the industry is properly regulated.
While operators may lament the amount of regulation, it actually serves to benefit the industry. A properly regulated commercial drone industry benefits everyone. It ensures operators can obtain reasonably priced insurance, it increases the number of quality operators in the marketplace and reduces the risk of injury or damage to property.
So, if you want to operate an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) commercially, you need to obtain permission from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). This is commonly known as Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO).
Gaining permission for commercial operations
Much like how a transport operating licence allows companies to operate commercial vehicles. A PfCO is a document which grants the operator permission to operate drones in a commercial environment and sets out the conditions for their use.
Obtaining your PfCO is not something to be taken lightly. Operators will need to show that they can fly drones competently, carry out pre-flight checks and most importantly, complete an operations manual.
Your operations manual is a legal requirement for obtaining your PfCO. It is essentially a contract between you and the CAA that covers information about the specific missions you intend to carry out and the UAV platform you will be using.
Each operations manual must be a unique document, written by the operator, which is used as a backstop to check your operations should something go wrong during the flight.
Preparing your operations manual
Your operations manual should contain procedures and checklists to ensure the safe operation of your UAV in all environments. A great deal of responsibility rides on the document so operators should take the time to ensure it is completed in accordance with CAA guidelines.
The guidelines for completing an operations manual change regularly but as of August 2018 the document should include the following four sections:
Section A: This is where you provide information about the types of commercial drone work you will carry out and the equipment you will be using. You should also provide the name of the person accountable and demonstrate compliance with the Air Navigation Order (ANO). The ANO covers the airworthiness of your UAV and operational weather conditions.
Section B: This section should cover how the drone will be operated from a health and safety perspective. It should document your emergency procedure for dealing with an incident and detail how you intend to obtain awareness of the site. This includes creating a flight plan, identifying potential obstacles in the flight path and notifying the public about your activities.
Section C: This is where you provide evidence about your ability to control the UAV. You should show what flight training you have received, what licenses you hold and how much experience you have. For larger companies, you should also document the qualifications of other pilots you intend to employ.
Section D: This is one of the most important sections which should contain a copy of any CAA Permissions you have obtained. It should also include a number of forms including; flight planning, site assessment and risk assessment forms.
As you can see creating an operations manual is a daunting task that requires a very high level of commitment and understanding from the operator. That’s why at Coptrz we include an operations manual review as part of our CAA Drone training course.
CAA approved drone training
The Coptrz CAA Drone Training course is designed to help users operate their UAVs competently and safely. As a National Qualified Entity (NQE) we are authorised by the CAA to provide training on all aspects of commercial drone use. Including the development of your operations manual for PfCO submission.
While there is no legal requirement for NQEs to provide operations manual reviews. In our opinion, it is vital that your operations manual is developed in combination with your UAV operational control training. The two should be developed together to provide the operational insight you need to build a successful, and more importantly safe, drone services business.
Operations Manual Review
There is a trend amongst other NQEs to not provide operations manual reviews as a standard element of their PfCO training. Usually due to the cost and complexity of providing such training. Some providers charge extra for this valuable add-on, while others neglect to provide the service at all.
The problem with this approach is that it can lead potential operators to believe that operations manual development is not a critical part of the PfCO certification process. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.
The CAA is responsible for the safe operation of all aircraft flying in UK airspace. This includes everything from Airbus A380s to small UAVs. As you can imagine, they take this responsibility very seriously. They will not accept operations manual submissions which do not meet current CAA guidelines.
Therefore submitting operations manuals which do not meet the required standard will result in the delay of PfCO certification. This can lead to extra expenses being incurred by being forced to engage overpriced consultants to review your operations manual submission, at a time when you can least afford it.
For this reason, we recommend that you only choose an NQE that provides operations manual reviews as a standard part of their PfCO certification program. Because selling PfCO certification training without an operations manual review, is like selling driver training without mentioning the highway code.
You can find out more information about the Coptrz CAA Drone Training Course (which includes an operations manual review) here.