Preparing the world for
a future with drones

Zero to 400, Part 3: Understanding Drone Qualifications

Zero to 400

Zero to 400 is a record of my journey from casual observer to (hopefully) confident drone pilot. This isn’t a detailed guide to legislation, and I’m certainly no expert on the ever-changing world of drones. I hope these posts can serve as a guide to the novice pilot and answer the basic questions from anyone interested in drones.

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4

So I’ve read the Drone Code, got my Flyer ID. What’s next?

I would love to dive into a post about getting the hang of controls, or taking great pictures, but before we start that, I’d like to talk about the other qualifications available to both hobbyists and commercial pilots.

Before we look at the certificates themselves, let’s understand why we might need them.

Flight Categories

The CAA (Civil Aviation Authority), who regulate drone use in the UK, have decided to distinguish between different types of drone flight by splitting them into three different categories of flight. These are based on the level of risk in the flight, so they consider factors like proximity to other people, weight of your drone, etc.

These three categories are called Open, Specific and Certified.

The Open Category is for low-risk flights and does not require any special approval from the CAA.

The Specific Category is for higher risk flights and requires operational authorisation from the CAA.

The Certified Category is for even higher risk flights, with larger aircraft and a similar level of regulation and authorisation to manned flights.

I’m going to wager that the majority of drone flights carried out in the UK fall under the Open Category. The Open Category is divided into three different subcategories – A1, A2 and A3. I’ll try to keep this brief:

A1 – “Fly over people” – very lightweight drones, very low risk.

A2 – “Fly close to people” – lightweight drones, a little more risk.

A3 – “Fly far from people” – heavier drones, but further away.

You can fly most drones in the A1 and A3 categories without the need for extra training – you just need to get your Flyer ID and read your drone’s user manual. The logic here being that A1 is only for very small or toy drones, and A3 is away from the risky spots. There’s a great table here from the CAA that breaks down the different drones and types of flight.

CAA Open Category

Jump to the last column and you’ll see that for anything in the A2 category, and for one class of drone in the A1 category, you will also need something called an A2 CofC Theoretical Test.


The A2 CofC 

The A2 CofC (Certificate of Competency) is a training course and qualification. It consists of four modules and covers the basics of meteorology, the principles of flight and best practice for safety and risk management. Both the course and theory exam can be completed online, with the qualification lasting for 5 years before renewal.

The A2 CofC is popular for pilots who are flying small drones in relatively low-risk areas. It’s quick and cheap to complete – the test takes 75 minutes, costs less than £100 and you can find cheap training courses online. Or you could just self-study and take the exam straight away. Once completed, you are pretty much covered for flying in the Open Category.

If you want to move on to the Specific category, you’re going to need a bit more training.



In order to get “operational authorisation” (permission from the CAA) for Specific category flights, you need to have completed another certificate called the GVC.

The GVC (General Visual Line of Site Certificate) is the next level up in drone qualifications. There’s a theory exam and practical test, plus the requirement to create an operations manual and follow the procedures.

The GVC is aimed at commercial pilots flying heavier drones in more high-risk or complex environments. It’s slightly more expensive and time-consuming, but it’s a must-have for pilots looking to fly outside of the limits of the Open category.

Important! This is all really, really new

Something I quickly realised when I started reading about drones is that the UK legislation all changed fairly drastically on 31st December 2020. So from 1st January 2021, there were big changes to the rules and the whole industry is still in a transitional phase as these changes are put into practice. The drone classes (C0, C1, etc.) in the table above aren’t even being used properly yet, as far as I’m aware the manufacturers haven’t yet produced any drones with these marks.

Prior to regulation D-day, something called the PfCO (Permission for Commercial Operation) was the go-to training option for pilots. The CAA used to separate recreational and commercial work in its regulations. Commercial pilots were required to have completed the PfCO in order to fly for work. The CAA no longer distinguishes between recreational and commercial flying when considering pilot training, so in theory you could fly commercially with some drones in the Open Category using just a Flyer ID. One area where there is still a distinction is in insurance – pilots flying commercially must have third party liability insurance for their flights.

If you completed a PfCO before the changes, it will still be valid – so long as you don’t let it lapse. For any new pilots, following the Flyer ID the big options for further training are now the A2 CofC and the GVC.

What else do I need to know?

There’s a lot more to learn about UK drone legislation and how the categories work.

Click here for the CAA’s guide to flying in the Open Category.

Landowner Permission

Even with a good understanding of the regulations, it’s important to check for bylaws or local restrictions when you fly your drone. Check out The DronePrep Map for everything you need to plan flights safely.

DronePrep Map

What’s on the DronePrep Map?

It’s holiday season, so with many of our friends and colleagues away, we decided to skip Spotlight On for this month and instead talk datasets with Claire Owen, co-founder of DronePrep. With a background in property and land data, Claire has a wealth of experience in data aggregation, and her passion for software has been the driving force behind the DronePrep Map.

What can I see on the map?

The map has a number of different layers with so much you can use to plans drone flights. There’s data from HM Land Registry, Ordnance Survey, Esri, what3words, NATS, and custom DronePrep data layers too… There are a few standard things that you see on most drone maps – FRZs etc – but the exciting stuff for us is the land ownership data, local authorities, bylaws, and the ability to plan future flights with the drawing tools.

DronePrep Map Land Ownership

and How did you choose what to include?

Gareth really did a lot of the groundwork on this: he was trying to map out the canal network by drone, and he couldn’t find landowner information to ask for permission to take off and land. This frustration is what triggered the idea behind the DronePrep Map many years ago.

We spent a lot of time thinking about what data to use and talking to drone pilots, as we wanted to design a platform that would be helpful for all our users. I have a very strong rule – always ask yourself “Why?” – if there’s a dataset you want to include, there’d better be a good reason for it.

Map Desktop VersionWho builds the software?

We have an external development team, Borwell, who are actually our neighbours here at Malvern Hills Science park, and they are brilliant. We work regularly with one awesome developer, Bob, and there’s a much wider team who join for the big updates. They have a number of experts in cyber security, so we know everything we’re doing is safe and secure.

How does the DronePrep Map differ from its competitors?

There are a few great drone maps out there, but we haven’t seen any with the variety of data that we offer. Especially the landowner stuff – we spent a lot of time pulling in data with the names, addresses, title numbers and such. It costs us a lot and there’s a huge amount of work behind the scenes to make it usable. Also, there’s cool features like the daylight tool, which shows where sunlight falls on the map at any given date in the year – that’s really useful, especially for photographers and videographers.

Map Drawing ToolWhat am I getting with the paid version?

You’re getting all of the landowner data – title number, owner name, contact details. If you’re planning to fly in a new spot but you don’t know who owns the land, this is gold. You also get the ability to draw, measure and save flight plans on your account. The measurements are great for helping you comply with the Drone Code, as you can check distances from built up areas and other potential hazards.

Why do you have to charge?

We don’t charge our users for the stuff we get for free, but some of the best data we have is paid for. We decided early on to prioritise accuracy over cost and we chose trusted, paid for options over unvalidated free versions, so we know the data we have from HM Land Registry and Ordnance Survey is consistent, definitive and authoritative, ie. – it’s correct.

Don’t forget the Microsoft cloud infrastructure: and we’ve got over 100 million rows in our database. There’s a lot of data, it’s a lot of storage, a lot of processing!

I think more importantly to note: we don’t have any advertisements and we don’t sell user data. We only ask for an email address and password. The only way we use this data is to allow users to access the platform, and to add emails to our mailing list. The data doesn’t go anywhere else.

Map Daylight ToolI don’t fly every day – should I upgrade to a paid subscription?

We’ve built the subscription model to be really flexible, so you can upgrade or downgrade at any time. If you’re not flying all year round, there’s nothing to stop you upgrading to plan some flights, get landowner permission, try out all the tools, then downgrade until you need it again.

What’s up next?

We’re about to do a huge update to the landowner portal to make it more intuitive for landowners to add policy information, so expect to see a lot more land opening up for drone use. We’ll also be doing some user feedback sessions again, hearing from the community what’s useful and what’s not. And next year we’ll be launching a mobile application for the map.

Did you say, “Mobile app next year”?

At some point next year, definitely, yes. Just don’t ask me which quarter yet!

Register on the Map

It’s free to register on The DronePrep Map – we just need an email address. Start planning your flights today:

The DronePrep Map

DronePrep Map

Zero to 400, Part 2: Getting a Flyer ID

Zero to 400

Zero to 400 is a record of my journey from casual observer to (hopefully) confident drone pilot. This isn’t a detailed guide to legislation, and I’m certainly no expert on the ever-changing world of drones. I hope these posts can serve as a guide to the novice pilot and answer the basic questions from anyone interested in drones.

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4

Getting my Flyer ID

Let’s start with a caveat: I’m not planning to buy a drone right now. I just packed up my life abroad, moved 5,000 miles during a pandemic and bought a car, all in less than two weeks. Any further big decisions are postponed until the dust has settled on the current ones.

Fortunately, my lovely colleagues and friends around the industry have plenty of drones to play around with, so I just need to get myself a Flyer ID – the driving license of droning.


Preparing for the Test

The CAA’s website tells me that in order to get my Flyer ID, I’ll need to pass a 40-question multiple choice test. The test has a pass mark of 30 (75%) and should take around 30 minutes to complete. I can retake the test as many times as I like, so there’s not much pressure there.

Before beginning, I take a quick look back at the Drone Code to see what I can remember from the first read-through.

I enter and verify an email address, and am asked whether I need to register for an Operator ID also – not today!


Taking the Test

The test itself is very much like the Drone Code – a lot of common sense and some pretty straight-forward answers.

There are a few questions designed to make you think twice – especially those that refer to scenarios with several different drones of different classes. Some of the questions end up reading like a school math test (“John has a 2kg drone, and Sarah has a 5kg drone, they are flying within 200m of a built-up area…”). I noticed for a few of these questions the figures are relevant, but for some the figures are just designed to throw your off (e.g. all of the pilots are flying legally/illegally).

Some of the questions encourage you to consider the reasons behind an answer (No, because… Yes, because…) and you’ll need to get that part correct too. Imagine I ask you something like: “Should I fly my drone within 20m of a school playground?” and you are offered the answers: “No, because the kids might steal your drone” vs. “No, because flying within 150m of a built-up area is not permitted” – you get the idea.

It takes less than 10 minutes to complete and – would you look at that – a perfect score of 40/40!


Receiving the Flyer ID

I’m asked to enter in some further details – name, address, phone number (optional) and my Flyer ID is generated immediately and emailed to me.

It’s noted both on the ID and within the confirmation email that I can fly under the A1 and A3 subcategory – that’s the “basic, low-risk flying” for those of you who haven’t studied the Drone Code yet.

My colleague tells me that if I want to fly in higher-risk categories, I’ll need to complete further training – I guess that’s next on the list!

Landowner Permission

Even with a good understanding of the regulations, it’s important to check for bylaws or local restrictions when you fly your drone. Check out The DronePrep Map for everything you need to plan flights safely.

DronePrep Map

Spotlight On: Stu Logan, Unmanned Air Veterans

Following an extensive career in military drone use, Stu Logan and business partner Tom Hubbard launched Unmanned Air Veterans Ltd. Working on a range of projects, from film shoots, to construction, to warehouse inspection, Stu is working to connect with other veterans and improve drone education and perception.

What is Unmanned Air Veterans’ mission?

Our mission – as corny as it sounds – is to be the best that there can be. We are a drone service offering creative media, inspection, analytical work, and movie/TV work. We also run an online group to connect with other veterans involved in drones, so we can talk and share ideas. There are a few of us, all involved in different areas of the industry, and as our business grows, we’re keen to get more involved in the education and training side also.

How did you get involved in drones?

Both myself and Tom served in what was the premier drone regiment in the world. When I joined, the kit was basic, nothing was in real time and there were no live feeds – then as technology improved, I was involved with all sorts of trials and the use of more and more semi-autonomous kit. It was a very colourful, entertaining, and challenging twenty years, and when I finished my service I thought – right, that’s what I’m going to do. Although we served in the same regiment, Tom and I were in different units, so we didn’t know each other too well. It wasn’t until we got out and we bumped into each other by chance. A guy I played football with happened to be working with Tom, so I knew he was in the area, and then a week later while I was out walking the dog, I ran into him taking his daughter to work. We haven’t looked back since

What kind of work are you involved in?

It’s been really varied. Ten years ago or so, you started seeing aerial shots with drones on TV, Film and music videos, the nice stuff. Then on sports, especially golf. Mainly because it’s cheaper than getting a helicopter. I think we had this idea that we’d film loads of golf courses in the UK – and we have done some golf courses – but the industry has changed so much in the last few years that we’re having to adapt all the time. Transport of goods and warehouse work (virtual tours) are two areas we’re starting to see more and more interest in. Construction and mapping are growing really quickly too. I would say that movie work is where we’ve personally been quite lucky, and is something we can really get into and there are projects on the horizon for us. Our first job was actually for an indie horror flick, and working on that was a real “pinch yourself” moment. Note: You can see the trailer for KARLI here:

How does commercial work with drones differ from military operations?

I would say the biggest challenge is not necessarily about finding or doing the work, it’s more about the restrictions that we didn’t used to have. We always operated on a “get that done yesterday, do this now” kind of approach, everything’s very quick, whereas now we have to wait around to do jobs. We can get itchy feet while waiting!

How can drones help veterans?

When you transition out of the forces, you can feel like there’s something missing – a kind of sense of self-worth, of being a part of something. We have both gone through our own channels to get help with diagnosed PTSD, but we found that doing something that you really enjoy for a business, having something to focus on, it really helps with that feeling of self-worth. It’s important to give that opportunity to people like myself and Tom who struggled with the transition, and helping people in similar situations lets us give something back to society.

You mentioned education and training. Can you tell me a bit more?

We’ve been invited to local schools to do open days. We did an event with an SEN (Special Educational Needs) school. Some of the teenagers had severe ADHD, Asperger’s, and other learning difficulties, but they were really interested. There was one young lad who came to see the kit, and his carer came up to me after and said – this is the longest I’ve seen him static, doing something and fully engaged – and the feedback was really good. In the future, we want to introduce drones properly to GCSE-age students and to show that this could be a real career route, to encourage work experience opportunities. Longer term, we would love to offer training courses so people can really get to learn all the skills you need to be a drone pilot. I have an idea for this, hopefully in the next 5 years it will happen.

What are your hopes for the future of the industry?

I would like the negative stigma associated with drones to go away. I want people to not be afraid of the industry. People worry over safety, the invasion of privacy, flying over peoples’ gardens and that kind of thing, which is understandable. I think to get there, we need to see a mix of community engagement, hearts and minds, and also more clamping down on people that are being irresponsible. There needs to be some clarity on who to speak to if there is an incident, who is going to enforce the laws. It will make people feel a lot safer. We in the industry also need to be out there making videos and using social media to help the public see what’s going on. I love sharing positive news about drones, and it’s important to show people outside the industry that drones are being used for good.

Find out more:
For more about Unmanned Air Veterans, check out their Facebook and LinkedIn pages.

Zero to 400, Part 1: Learning the UK Drone Code

Zero to 400

Zero to 400 is a record of my journey from casual observer to (hopefully) confident drone pilot. This isn’t a detailed guide to legislation, and I’m certainly no expert on the ever-changing world of drones. I hope these posts can serve as a guide to the novice pilot and answer the basic questions from anyone interested in drones.

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4

While living in a student house in my early twenties, airborne “toys” were all the rage. A handful of classmates bought cheap quadcopters to spice up days at the park. One of us had the smart idea to buy a tiny RC helicopter, which was mostly used to terrorize the housemate who refused to do any washing up. Working in the aerospace industry, I met colleagues who were into drones, and I was lucky enough to see some of the more expensive models in action for R&D projects.

I don’t remember anyone talking about laws or regulations. But, then again, I don’t remember my mother complaining about nosy neighbours flying over the garden either.

Fast-forward to 2021 and, after a long stint abroad, I’ve just returned to the UK to discover the world of drones has long since moved on. Operator IDs, FRZs, class marks, categories… There’s a lot to learn for the newcomer and a stark contrast to what I’ve seen before.

I’ve decided to document my progress, from complete beginner, to at least somewhat competent in the rules and regulations.

If you’re new to drones, or even visiting the UK with a drone in-tow, I hope this guide proves helpful.


Learning the Drone Code

Before taking any tests or even thinking about buying a drone, I was directed to the Drone Code as a “starting point”. Thanks colleagues for the heads up!

The Drone Code appears to be a summary of all the UK laws and regulations related to drones (and model aircraft). It saves you the hassle of trying to decode all those lengthy legal documents. The Code is published by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and takes the form of a ten-part guide available online.

Diving into the first section – Getting what you need to fly legally – and the biggest change since my early drone encounters is the requirement to register your drone. But perhaps the word register is a bit misleading, as what you are actually doing is applying for two different things: an Operator ID and a Flyer ID.


Operator ID

Think of it like a car number plate. Except, you could use the same number on all your cars simultaneously. And it could be either 9 or 17 alphanumeric characters. And it’s registered against your name. And it costs £9 a year. Okay, it’s not quite a number plate, but you get the idea.

Unless the drone is a toy, or it’s really small and doesn’t have a camera, you probably need an Operator ID. Luckily, as mentioned above, you can use the same ID for all your drones. So, the most you are going to pay as the owner of a whole fleet of drones is £9. As an operator, you are responsible for managing and maintaining the drone(s), and you are responsible for making sure anyone you allow to fly them has a Flyer ID (see below). Unfortunately for our younger readers, this is an adults-only registration – so you’ll need to find someone over 18 to register as the operator.


Flyer ID

As well as registering to be the responsible “manager” of the drone, you’re probably going to need a Flyer ID (unless you are only flying very small drones). The Flyer ID is like a driving license, in that it allows you to fly any drones within the classes it covers, not just the ones you own. If you want to fly someone else’s drone, you’ll need a Flyer ID – even if they are the registered operator of that drone. Under 18s can do the Flyer ID too, and there’s actually some great guidance from the CAA aimed at the parents/guardians of drone-flying kids.

The Flyer ID requires passing a short theory test online. Fortunately, it differs from a license in that it’s free, and there’s no practical test involved. Flyer IDs are renewed every 5 years. Let’s assume this is to keep up with any future legislation changes.

Note: You can’t drive a truck on a regular driving license, likewise your Flyer ID alone isn’t going to let you fly really heavy drones. The rules here cover you for most consumer drones like the ones manufactured by DJI – but not all drones. Click here for more info.

Flying safely and legally

The rest of the Drone Code offers rules and guidelines for safe and responsible flying. Some of the wording is strong and clearly lifted from legislation (you must not fly when under the influence of alcohol, you must not fly over people). Other parts appear to be recommendations, or just things to watch out for (standing out in the sun could affect your ability to concentrate).

Much of the guide feels like common sense, but there are a few rules I wasn’t aware of. For example, you’re given extra leeway on the height limit when flying over a structure, but only if you’ve been asked to carry out some kind of task related to it – like photographing a wind turbine, for example.

The guide has these great little vector illustrations of all the rules, so it’s pretty easy to follow. After about 20 minutes, I feel like I have a basic idea of what can and can’t be done while flying.

I would recommend reading through the Drone Code in its entirety, it doesn’t take too long. The last section of the Code offers links to the full legislation governing drone flight – which includes the EU regulations alongside the CAA’s Air Navigation Order (plus its amendments).

You can find the Drone Code online here:

Landowner Permission

Even with a good understanding of the regulations, it’s important to check for bylaws or local restrictions when you fly your drone. Check out The DronePrep Map for everything you need to plan flights safely.

DronePrep Map