How to tell if a Drone Pilot is the real deal (Legal)

There are a lot of illegal operators in the UK, and this guide will help you spot one.

Know one thing: Drone Safe Register pilots produce significantly superior work. Illegal operators are not only second rate, but they are also putting your business and reputation at risk.

Note: The CAA draws no distinction between indoor and outdoor flight, all the same rules apply.

Use this checklist to ensure the pilot(s) you are hiring for paid work are operating within the law, they have a current licence and are properly insured to fly UAV’s [Acronyms are at the bottom of the page]:

✅ PfCO Certificate: Check the name matches and it is in date.

Any professional operator will have this available to show you – and will be happy to do so. Be sure to check the expiry date on page two. Ask them what their CAA licence number is, and look it up to check it’s validity in this document. Be sure to have sight of the actual certificate and check expiry dates against those listed in the operators list, as anyone can make up a number and claim they operate under that name. Illegal pilots have been known to do this.

✅ Insurance and public liability must comply with EC785/2004.

It will state this number on the documentation very clearly. Specialist UAV insurance companies like Cover Drone will only supply insurance once the pilot has their PfCO, which involves theory and practical flight exams. Some pilots use ad-hoc insurance policies, which are location and time specific. The minimum public liability for drone use is £1 million. Insurance is mandatory no matter where you are, even in open fields in the middle of nowhere – no excuses!

✅ Flight plans must be in place prior to takeoff. If a last minute flight is needed (for example in an emergency for a roof inspection), then the flight plan must be in place prior to takeoff, no matter how urgent.

Note: Regular business insurance does NOT cover drone use. If the pilot has the wrong insurance, NOBODY has insurance.

✅ Permission to take off and land, evidence of (from official email address) or wet signature by relevant person or authority.

You could also ask your pilot if they are willing to show you their operations manual, which is sometimes a private document but many operators will be willing to show you parts of it. This demonstrates how pilots comply with the ANO 2016.

Remember, Drone Safe Register pilots go through these checks as part of their membership application, however it is recommended to check for your own peace of mind.

If you are in any doubt about the legal standing of a pilot you have worked with previously, the best thing to do is contact them and ask for the above details, or contact the Drone Safe Register for advice.

No Flight Plan / Invalid Insurance = Illegal Flight

Red Flags:

Illegal operators know that they are working under the radar, that’s why you need to be especially vigilant and not to be taken in by their lies.

They have, as many criminals in other areas of law breaking, come up with a range of distraction tactics and excuses for what they do to pull the wool over your eyes. Strange, evasive wording, for example:Please note all flights are piloted by licensed RC pilots and we are fully insured for all aspects of flight”, should raise a red flag!

Things illegal operators will tell you:

❌ “I have a lifetime licence, I know the rules”.

They clearly do not know the rules. This is absolutely not the case. Licences need renewal each year, and go through the same scrutiny every time to ensure pilots are operating safely. Do your own research to avoid being duped.

❌ “I don’t need a flight plan, I’ve flown here before”

… but do they know about the military training exercise that’s going on just 2 miles away, or the Notice to Airmen, banning all flight in the area because of a football match? [This is why planning must be updated and be relevant to that date of the flight].

❌ “I’m a member of the BMFA”

That’s a great thing, however it does not mean they have permission for commercial operations. The British Model Flyers Association does have qualifications that can lead to a PfCO, however commercial operation with drones 100% requires the documentation in the list at the top of the page.

❌ “I have a Personal Private (pilots) Licence”

That’s a great thing, but again, it does not mean they have permission for commercial use of drones. PPL holders still have to submit an operations manual to gain their PfCO, and without a PfCO they can’t have the right insurance!

If you have concerns about a drone operator, or see a drone in close proximity to the general public are coming and going, call the Police on 101.

It is everyone’s responsibility to report illegal drone operators to the Police (the CAA have delegated this to the Police), with as much detail as possible – particularly where possible a car registration plate number, as this helps quickly locate the criminal and reduce the problem of illegal operators.

If you knowingly use an illegal operator, you are also liable for damages and criminal activity.


PfCO: Permission to Fly Commercial Operations

CAA: Civil Aviation Authority

UAV: Unmanned Aerial Vehicle

ANO: Air Navigation Order