What budding pilots can expect to learn and how it might earn them a living
UAV Pilot Training

Drones have been touted as man’s new best friend, there for you to deliver small parcels or film your wedding. But one crucial element of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is that there is still a human involved, albeit not in the cockpit.

Pilots are as necessary as ever, guiding our flying friends remotely from ground level. And the demand for personnel to operate drones is predicted to soar: a report by the UK House of Lords in March forecast the drone industry could create as many as 150,000 jobs in Europe by 2050.

In the UK, commercial drone pilots need a permit to fly. So one group of UK-based pilots has set up a school to cater to this need: UAVAir. The school offers training from pilots with a wealth of aircraft and drone experience. UAVAir trainers together have more than 40 years of flying experience and eight years in the civilian drone industry, the organisation says.

The fast track courses take budding pilots through the theory, flight planning and practice of flying a drone, using racecourses as ideal places for test flights. While the skills needed for an aircraft and a drone are vastly different, both need to be aware of the crowded airspace they operate in and air laws, says Bjarne Pedersen, director at UAVAir.

UAVAir offers different programmes for those who already hold regular pilot licences and novices. Starting in August, the £800 to £1,250 (US$1,200 - US$1,900) courses get pilots certified flight-ready in three days on anything from sub-7kg to 20kg drones. The smallest drones have been the most popular so far, notes Pedersen.

Some 10 people have already signed up in the school’s first month, including surveyors and a TV journalist; companies as well as individuals have expressed interest. “[On our courses] we’ve mainly had people with no [prior] experience of aviation,” says Pedersen. “It’s an interesting industry because you can combine [drones] with many different professions. That’s the reason why there is more and more interest.”

Once qualified, the sky is the limit when it comes to job opportunities. “Up until now it’s very much been filming and photography [that have dominated applications],” Pedersen observes. “However, there is a lot of work being generated in surveys of buildings, in agriculture, using drones to inspect oil rigs, wind farms, and use by the police for security.”

Says Pedersen: “It’s just a matter of time to see how much we’re going to use drones in the future, but it certainly looks like they are here to stay.”