As drones become more popular in many industries, including video creation and inspection, making money with your drone is more accessible than ever.
But how do you become a commercial drone pilot in the UK?
Since December 31st, 2021, you won’t need a special license to fly a drone commercially in the UK. You will be required to have a Flyer and Operator ID, drone insurance compliant with EC785/2004, and apply for A2CofC or GVC certificates if required by your type of flight.
This ultimate guide will take you through all the requirements to become a commercial drone pilot in the UK.
To help, we’ve identified and reviewed the best drone courses for beginners and professionals.
How to get a flyer ID and operator ID in the UK
To become a commercial pilot in the UK, you need Flyer ID and Operator ID certificates.
What are Flyer ID and Operator ID?
- The Flyer ID is a certificate showing that you passed your introductory drone flight and know how to fly a drone in the UK.
- The Operator ID is a certificate where you have to label your Operator ID code on a drone or model aircraft, and the pilot is responsible for the drone and who flies it.
For example, if you have a DJI Mini 3 Pro, which is under 250 grams, you won’t need a Flyer ID, but you will be required to label it with an Operator ID.
You can give this drone to someone else to fly (even without Flyer ID), but you will be responsible for that person flying the drone.
Your drone will also be classified in a specific category depending on your type of flight.
|Flying Weight||Flyer ID||Operator ID|
|Drone below 250 grams – toy||No||No|
|Drone below 250 grams – not a toy without a camera||No||No|
|Drone below 250 grams – not a toy with a camera||No||Yes|
|Drone above 250 grams||Yes||Yes|
|Categories||Type of Flying|
|Open A1 and A3||Basic, low-risk flying|
|Open A2||Higher risk of flying than A1 and A3|
|Specific||Moderate risk of flying|
|Certified||High risk with complex flying|
Applying for a Flyer ID is easy and costs you nothing. Moreover, Flyer IDs are available for five years.
Therefore, if you plan to become a commercial drone pilot in the UK, whether the Flyer ID is required, why not get one? It’s all done online.
An Operator ID costs £10.33 ($13) and is valid for one year.
To get a Flyer ID, you can start from this page.
You will find all the requirements, links to prepare for the theory tests, and every step to get the Flyer ID.
To get an Operator ID, you can start from this page.
Please note that you must be 18 or over to apply for an Operator ID.
Registering your drone in the UK
No matter how many drones you have, each aircraft you want to fly should have a label with your Operator ID unless it’s a toy drone.
Having contact details on the label is not mandatory, but it’s a good practice if you lose your drone and someone else finds it.
Requirements to apply for a commercial license in the UK
Since December 31st, 2020, you are not required to have a specific drone license to use your drone for commercial reasons.
However, with this being the case, you will be restricted to the basic type of flights in the A1 and A3 categories.
To fly in congested areas, you must apply for an A2 Certificate of Competency (A2CofC).
This applies to flying drones between 250 grams and 2 kilograms in congested areas but not directly above people.
The A2CofC will usually cost you less than £100 and can be done online.
The general VLOS Certificate (GVC) is yet another option to obtain a certificate if you want to apply for Specific Category types of flights (outside of A2 as required to get A2CofC).
This type of certificate is a lot more expensive and should cover theoretical learning and tests and practical exams with certified pilots in specific locations.
Generally, the most suggested license that should cover numerous commercial activities is, in fact, the GVC.
When you want to apply for a commercial license in the UK, you must know what type of flights you will perform, with what drone, and which categories should apply for you to understand what license you will need.
Note: Commercial drone operations will require mandatory insurance compliant with EC785/2004 for commercial drone flights on the UK territory.
The certified category will require further certification on top of GVC and A2CofC, which should cover the most complex and high-risk types of flights, often needed in complex industries where the GVC isn’t sufficient.
A handful of UK companies are certified by CAA to commercialize their courses and can offer these types of certificates by pursuing their requirements.
What drone license do I need?
This will mostly depend on what type of commercial drone pilot you want to be.
For many jobs, you won’t need more than the A2 CofC certificate, but most commercial drone pilots in the UK have taken the GVC to cover their needs in terms of commercial applications.
The certified category will cover a risk equivalent of piloting a manned aircraft. You will unlikely need to apply for the certificate category to fly your drone commercially.
As for now, the UK regulation related to the certified category is still being developed and has not been published (CAA).
How are commercial drone pilots affected by BREXIT?
Ever since BREXIT, there have been a couple of changes in drone laws and regulations in the UK.
One of the significant changes that positively impacted drone pilots who want to fly for commercial purposes was the end of PfCO on December 31st, 2021, which was equivalent to an A2 certificate required for commercial purposes.
That certificate used to be complicated to obtain. You had to be registered to CAA for permission, and its cost could exceed £1,000 with a high annual fee.
Ever since, there has been no need for a specific commercial license for basic commercial drone flying in the UK.
Still, taking the A2 CofC and GVC certificates is recommended to abide by drone laws and regulations when flying your drone for such purposes.
As well, don’t forget that you will have to apply for drone insurance that has to be compliant with EC785/2004 if you want to fly commercially.
Any drone over 20 kilograms will require mandatory drone insurance to fly, wherever the type of flight.
There have been some other minor changes to the drone laws and regulations but nothing of concern at this time.
Drone laws in the UK
To fly any type of drone in the UK, you must abide by the current drone laws set by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
First, as mentioned, you may need a Flyer ID and Operator ID to fly commercially in the UK and further apply for the required certificate if needed.
Here are the drone laws in the UK.
- You’re responsible for your flight.
- Keep your drone in sight at all times, and be aware of the surrounding airspace.
- To fly a drone while observing a phone screen, tablet or with goggles is all considered FPV flight by the UK CAA laws, which will require you to have an observer with you (and not only with FPV goggles).
- Fly below 120m (400ft) from the closest point of the earth’s surface.
- Do not fly closer to strangers than 50m (164ft); this doesn’t apply to people with you involved.
- You can fly closer to people than 50 meters and above them if your drone is below 250 grams.
- You can fly closer to people than 50 meters but not intentionally above them if your drone is between 250 and 500 grams.
- Always keep a safe distance from others, especially in poor weather.
- Never fly over crowds, no matter what drone you have.
- You must keep at least 150 meters (492ft) from residential, recreational, commercial, and industrial buildings and sites. This doesn’t apply to drones under 250 grams.
- Keep your distance from any airport or aircraft.
- Follow any restrictions and hazards before flying your drone.
- Although these laws apply mainly to A1 and A3 categories, you must apply for correct authorization to fly beyond any specific drone laws.
What is a commercial drone pilot in the UK?
A commercial drone pilot in the UK classifies as any drone pilot who flies their drone and obtains money in exchange, wherever you do inspections, map, or upload your drone footage on a monetized YouTube channel.
As we have explained in this article, nowadays, there isn’t much difference in the requirements to fly a drone commercially and recreationally.
Still, it all depends on the category you’re flying your drone.
How much do commercial drone pilots make in the UK?
The UK is a first-world country where technology is developing rapidly, and the use of commercial drones for different activities is higher than ever before.
The UK has fewer restrictions in concordance with flying drones commercially compared to other countries, so more pilots offer their services for commercial purposes.
The salary you’ll earn in the UK as a commercial drone pilot can drastically depend on many factors, such as what type of license you have, what type of services you offer, and what area you are flying the drone for commercial reasons.
According to Economic Research Institute, the average income for a commercial drone pilot in London is around £48,000 per year ($61,000) or an average of £23 ($29) per hour.
In other parts of the UK, a commercial drone pilot will earn less (also, the living cost is lower), but this is a simple average.
In contrast, experienced pilots with all certifications and rich drone gear, on top of what contracts they can acquire as commercial drone pilots, may even cross the £100k mark a year.