What is a PfCO? Why is it required and how does a drone operator obtain this permission from the CAA?
What is a Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO)?
A PfCO is a legal requirement for UAV/drone companies to operate commercially within the UK (i.e. in order to be paid for work involving drone flight).
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is the UK’s specialist aviation regulator, responsible for regulating aviation safety in the UK. The CAA is responsible for defining policy for the use of UK airspace, the regulation of Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports – and, of course, safety regulations for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) – more commonly referred to as drones.
Every commercial drone operator who has been granted permission by the CAA will have a document confirming the permission and setting out conditions for its use.
The primary means of identifying an individual permission-holder is their permission document, so ensure you obtain this prior to employing a drone operator in the UK.
Why is PfCO required?
Simply put, if you plan to use a drone for commercial purposes in the UK – i.e. “in return for remuneration or other valuable consideration” – then you will require permission from the CAA.
Anyone can operate a drone weighing less than 20kg for recreation purposes, providing they follow the CAA regulations (see the latest Drone Code detailed further down this page).
A PfCO will also ensure an operator has the relevant insurance (including public liability insurance) required for drone operations. Although the CAA has removed the requirement for PfCO applications to include insurance documentation (as of June 2019), commercial drone pilots must still self-declare that insurance is in place when applying to the CAA and must provide evidence of suitable insurance to the CAA if audited.
How is a PfCO obtained?
In order to obtain a PfCO from the CAA, commercial drone operators must complete a PfCO Training Course with a CAA approved National Qualified Entity (NQE). The NQE will conduct a practical flight test, following successful theory training on a number of aviation subjects, including; Meteorology, UK Airspace Classifications, Safe Flight Operations, Navigation and Aerodynamics. The NQE will assess the competency of pilots flying drones and will provide a recommendation to the CAA as part of the PfCO application process.
epic drone films completed the PfCO course (referred to as the Remote Pilot Authorisation course) with the NQE – 3iC.
Drone Safe - Drone Code
The CAA has produced a simple document that outlines the code that all drone operators in the UK must abide by (both recreational or commercial). Everyone must follow these simple steps to ensure they are flying safely and legally – you can see details of the Drone Code below.
However, once a commercial drone operator obtains a PfCO from the CAA, some restrictions will be reduced and the exact conditions which they must follow will be outlined in their Operations Manual.
epic drone films has obtained Standard Permission PfCO from the CAA, which allows us to conduct commercial operations as well as to operate in ‘congested’ areas (towns, cities) – reducing the minimum distance required from properties/objects not under the control of the operation from 150m down to 50m (and only 30m for take-off and landing).