This is How Easy it is to Become an Official Drone Pilot in the UK

By Tom Pritchard on at

So today is the day that the CAA is finally insisting that everyone who flies or operates a drone gets a licence. A licence that involves passing an online theory test to see if you actually know the rules of drone conduct properly. It's nowhere near as difficult as passing a driving test, but you may have some reservations about how to get the whole process rolling. Thankfully it's all rather easy, as I'll explain.

Who Needs a Licence?

Because drones are miniature flying machines that have proven they can cause havoc in the wrong hands, everyone who wants to own or fly a drone between 250g and 20KG will need a licence of some kind.

Anything under 250g and you're in the toy range, so you're ok. Anything over 20KG has totally different regulations, an to be honest you probably won't get your hands on one of these as a civilian.

Flying indoors, or in a "securely netted area" also makes you exempt from these rules, since they only apply to the great outdoors.

These licences are designed for normal people, whereas organisations will need to register as operators separately. Meanwhile anyone using drones for commercial reasons needs to get permission from the local authority before they do anything.

Know What Kind of Licence You Need

There are two different kinds of licences available from today, and it's important to know which one you need. First up is the Fliers licence that gives you the legal right to fly a drone, provided you're not breaking any of the rules while doing so. This is a free licence, available to anyone of any age,  and is valid for three years once you pass the test.

Next is the operator licence, which is essentially a licence to own a drone. This is the person responsible for it, and makes sure that only licenced fliers are using their drone. Each drone they owned must also be labelled with their ID, so it can be traced back to you. This licence costs £9, and is only valid for a single year. Operators must be over the age of 18.

The standard operator test also registers you as a flyer, but if you don't plan on flying you can register as a non-flying operator. You still have to pay £9, though, and it's only valid for a year. Personally I think you might as well get the flyer licence as well.

Taking the Test

Unlike, say, a driving theory test, you don't need to go to a dedicated centre to do your drone theory test. It's all done online, and you can take the test as many times as you like in whatever time frame you like. It's also completely free, and the only payment comes after you pass, and if you want an operator licence.

There are 20 multiple choice questions in all, all of which are based on the Drone and Model Aircraft Code that was published last month. The CAA says you should prepare for the test, though I found that if you have some rudimentary drone knowledge already you should be able to do quite well using common sense.

The CAA estimates that it will take around 20 minutes, but I was able to get through it twice in about 10-15. Obviously it'll take less time the better you know the safety material. It's not timed, either, so if you aren't sure there's nothing stopping you from looking up the answers.

The pass mark is 16, and if you fail (as I did the first time round) you can take the test again right away. Helpfully the CAA tells you what you got wrong, so I was able to speed through the test again to get a full 20/20.

Once You Pass

After you pass you're asked to tick some boxes claiming you understand all the rules, and will make sure all the legal requirements are being adhered to. That includes making sure drones have a valid operator ID, and people with valid flyer IDs are the only people that will be taking drones to the skies.

Agree to all that, pay your dues (if necessary), and you get your ID numbers and expiry dates on screen. Sadly you don't get a little card, like a drivers licence, but they do get emailed to you. So you can just print them off or write them down so they don't get lost in your inbox. Laminate a little card if you're feeling fancy. The CAA will also send you a receipt if you got an operator licence and had to pay £9.

So it really is that easy. Whether you are an avid drone enthusiast, or you're thinking of getting one in the near future, you don't need to worry about making sure you're doing it legally. Getting a licence really is quite easy - as long as you're not an idiot that thinks drones are an excuse to be reckless.