More and more often we see the phrase legal drone operator or licensed drone operator being spoken about but what is meant by this? And why should you use one?
Here in the UK the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA, there are a lot more acronyms to come so stay with me!) are the agency or establishment that look after our air space. In order to work with your drone you must be in receipt of your CAA permissions for aerial work (PfAW for short) in order to gain this you must satisfy the CAA that you have met the required level of knowledge and understanding of aviation rules, safety and requirements, in addition to this you must have undertaken a practical assessment of your flying abilities and the fail safes of your aircraft, this is commonly done through national qualified entities (NQE, there’s another acronym for you) training programs, however you do not have to necessarily go through an NQE training program but from experience I can honestly say it’s far simpler and there is a lot more support if you do.
So you may now be thinking that doesn’t sound so bad? Well the real work is writing what’s called an operations manual, this is effectively your working practices and how you will structure your company/operation and who is responsible for each and every part of your operation, it also has specific details about the functions of your aircraft, and how they work, it also references to your working practices, and what, if any restrictions you will put on the pilot in terms of rest period and maximum flying hours, and generally covers all aspects of how you will fly, but equally as important your record keeping of flying hours aircraft defects etc.
If it sounds complicated believe me it is! For me I took some 3-4 weeks to write my first draft then another 2 weeks of making adjustments to it before it was ready to be sent off, this document along with evidence of your practical and theory assessments is needed in order to apply for your CAA permissions for aerial work (PfAW )
So as you may well guess by now, legal drone operators have undergone training, both theoretical and practical, and have demonstrated that they have adopted safe working practices, and crucially are insured to the correct level and hold the relevant CAA permissions, so in contrast, illegal or unqualified operators, may not have the relevant knowledge to undertake an operation safely, and are likely uninsured, and generally may well be taking un necessary chances with safety, hence the pricing tends to be far cheaper.
How can you tell if an operator is legal? Well every month the CAA publishes a list of what’s called approved SUA (small unmanned aircraft, that’s the last acronym!)operators where any current legal operator or company can be found, in addition the operator should be able to show you their CAA permissions (although this is only an electronic copy usually) and evidence of their insurance which should be a minimum of £2m public liability