How do I fly drones commercially in the UK?

A Permission for Commercial Operation (PfCO) is the legal document you need to operate a drone commercially in UK airspace. Until August 2016 this was known as a Permission for Aerial Work (PFAW).

We have simplified the process that the average person takes to attaining their Permission for Commercial Operation from the CAA. The steps are outlined below.


What is the Permission for Commercial Operation (PfCO)?

The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) requires all professional drone operators to possess a Permission for Commercial Operation before working for hire or reward, what is known as valuable consideration.

Permissions and/or exemptions from the CAA are valid for up to 12 months and are subject to an annual renewal.  

They allow flights within the UK subject to the conditions and limitations specified.  However, the greater the amount of ‘freedom of operation’ that you require (in terms of locations, procedures and the duration of the permission), then the greater the amount of information you need to provide the CAA (in terms of demonstrating that you can operate safely).

A permission from the CAA is required to be held if you wish to conduct a commercial operation with your aircraft, or if you wish to fly your aircraft:

  • within 150m of either a congested area or an organised open-air crowd or more than 1000 persons, and/or

  • within 50m of people or properties/objects that are not under your control

Two types of Permission are available;

Standard Permission

This enables a person to conduct commercial operations with a small unmanned aircraft (drone) and also permits drones weighing 20kg or less to be operated within a congested area.  Potential operators are required to provide evidence of pilot competence (through a course with an NQE such as Aerial Motion Pictures’ ICARUS course) and an Operations Manual which details how the flights will be conducted.

Non-Standard Permission

This covers all other types of flight and addresses operations that contain a greater element of operating risk.  In addition to the requirements for a Standard Permission, applicants are also required to prepare and submit an Operating Safety Case (OSC) to the CAA.


1. Book a course

Making sure you choose the right NQE to get your Drone License can be daunting. It's a significant investment but one that can be very rewarding and a steep learning curve for people who are new to the world of Aviation.

The ICARUS drone training courses have been designed by Aviators who have not only flown in the unmanned airspace but also the manned airspace. Understanding how both can work safely together.

Ex-RAF Helicopter Instructor Matt Williams designed the ICARUS drone course in 2015 and had flown Helicopters and Drones all over the world. The ICARUS team is supported by Flight Instructors who fly on Film and TV sets as well as being experts in the field of Industrial Inspections.

We have 2 courses designed to lead you through to your PfCO (Permission for Commercial Operation) that start with 2 days of ground school.

Click here to book online or call us on 01491 526 700.


2. ICARUS Theory (Ground School)

It is a requirement by the CAA to complete your drone ground school and pass a theory examination by a certified NQE such as Aerial Motion Pictures to be recommended for your PfCO.

The CAA syllabus covers a number of modules that are taught on both our ICARUS STANDARD and ICARUS PRO drone training courses by the top SUAS pilots in the country. We have also added the additional module 'UK Low Flying System & Collision Effects' thanks to Matt Williams experience in Military Aviation.

The theory course culminates with a multiple choice examination of 50 questions. The pass mark for the exam is 80% – but do not be phased by this! We will ensure that you have the required knowledge to pass the exam by the time you come to sit it.

flock cover

3. Commercial Pilot Insurance

In the UK, it is a legal requirement that commercial drone pilots are insured with EC785/2004 complaint insurance at the time of flight. This is why an important part of your PfCO application involved submitting a proof of insurance document.

We have partnered with Flock, who provide flexible, CAA compliant commercial insurance. With Flock, you can also get your proof of insurance document for free without having to commit to a long-term policy.

Find out more here.


4. Flight Assessment (Operational Evaluation)

An Operational Evaluation (OE) is your Drone Flight Test. During your Operational Evaluation, we will be assessing your competency as a drone pilot and reviewing your understandings of how to safely plan and complete a commercial flight operation.

Without this, your NQE (Aerial Motion Pictures) cannot give you a recommendation for the CAA to issue you your PfCO (Permission for Commercial Operations).

You will first need to complete the Theory Ground School for your drone course before you can take your Operational Evaluation.

What can I expect from my Operational Evaluation?

We've designed our Operational Evaluation (OE) to be a simple as possible. On our ICARUS Course we provide you with an Operational Evaluation planning guide to ensure that you know how to plan for any commercial flight operation. This can then be relayed back to the examiner during your briefing. You'll also be given access to our Manoeuvres guide video in advance to make sure you get plenty of practice in.

The Operational Evaluation is broken down into 4 parts and lasts approximately 2 hours

  • On-Site Survey & Risk Assessment

  • Brief the instructor

  • Practical Assessment

      • Mock Commercial Flight Operation

      • Manoeuvres

  • Result & De-Brief


5. Operations Manual (ICARUS Standard)

The completion of your Operations Manual is a legal requirement by the CAA, it is your risk assessment for your Commercials Operations. 

ICARUS are here to help you every step of the way. We will supply a copy of the CAA Operations Manual Template as a starting point for writing the document yourself, free of charge.

A full copy of an example Operations Manual will be available to view during the course. 


   Operations Manual (ICARUS Pro) 

When you choose our ICARUS Pro PfCO Course, you get a bespoke Operations Manual created through our partnered company Open Sky Consulting.


6.  Application for PfCO from the CAA

As of April 2018, the CAA introduced an online portal to apply for your PfCO. Previously, your NQE did this on your behalf for the initial application.

The application website can be found here:

The current cost for your initial application for your PfCO is £247.



8. Receive PfCO via e-mail from CAA

It can take up to 28 working daysto receive your PfCO from the CAA. The remote pilot will only be-able to work commercially once they have received their PfCO.