How to (NOT) choose your CAA NQE - Who is the BEST Drone Training School - Part 1

How to (NOT) choose your CAA NQE - Who is the BEST Drone Training School - Part 1

September 29, 2019

Hey everybody and welcome to the blog!

In today's blog post, we are going to be looking at the things you need to consider when choosing your Drone Training School... It used to be fairly straightforward when there were only a handful of CAA NQEs out there, teaching people how to fly their drones commercially and ultimately, get a PfCO but now there's so many providers; it's a literal MINEFIELD!

Don't worry at all though; we're here to guide you through every step of the way towards making the right decision for you! :)

Read time approximately 5 minutes or alternatively click the video below to see this on the Mr MPW YouTube channel



Today, we're answering one of the big questions; the elephant in the room if you like, and quite a big one I suppose for people who are looking to enter the industry - 'how to choose their training company'. Who are you going to do your CAA Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO) with?

Just a quick little bit of background on that before we dive straight in!

The Permission for Commercial Operations, which is the certificate that you need from the CAA, (The Civil Aviation Authority), is the authorization, which allows you to operate a drone for some kind of gain. If you want to make money from your drone or ultimately if you are better off at the end of the day for flying your drone than you were at the start of the day, then you've probably been carrying out commercial work. To do that, you have to have your PfCO and you have to have adequate and appropriate third party insurance in place, that complies with something called EC-785 2004 (we've got videos and blogs coming up on the channel that explain what that means - so don't worry if that sounds like total nonsense at this stage! :) ).

When we first started doing commercial drone operations, we worked under a slightly different system called the 'Permission for Aerial Work' (PfAW) and there was only really one way to get that; you needed to have your pilot's license. So, either a private or commercial pilot's license from which the CAA would to allow you to operate unmanned aircraft commercially - that's what we got when we were flying model helicopters with gimbals on back in the day.

Then, the CAA bought out the 'Permission for Aerial Work' syllabus, which allowed people to do a course to get qualified. At the time there was one company that provided that course - you would complete the course and then that would allow you to get your permissions from the CAA. Done!

That then really created a massive boom in the training industry. Originally there were four or five, 'proper' providers, of which we were one of the first; about five years ago. These providers or Nationally Qualified Entities (NQEs), started to deliver the training on behalf of the CAA and were approved by the CAA to do so.

(For those who aren't aware, for transparency and clarity; I am the CEO at the biggest drone training school in the world - Fly ICARUS. We've trained more than 2,000 people now to get their commercial permissions and we do a very good job of it, as do lots of the other NQEs I'm sure).

One of the big concerns which has come from building all the content on this site and over on the YouTube channel is actually really concerning though... Because we're getting a lot of questions from current, commercial drone operators who have trained with other companies which we consider to be really 'basic' information!

These people have done a course with an NQE, a Nationally Qualified Entity, (an approved training company who are regulated and authorised by the CAA) and the questions we're getting asked are quite scary sometimes.

  • How far do I need to stay away from people?
  • How do I renew that?
  • How do I update this?

And we're often left thinking; 'these are fundamental questions which your NQE shouldn't leave you in the dark about it'. They shouldn't make it so that you even have to ask those questions. The answers should be made blatantly obvious!

I suppose then we come down to the quality, and for a long time a lot of people were saying, "Well, why does the course cost £2,000?" as was the case just a few years ago.

Then, "Why is it £1,500?" then, "Why is it a thousand?". Generally, what we're now seeing is that, because there are so many training companies, the training has actually become a commodity.

For those of you who haven't seen the video that I've done about building an offer and taking yourself out of the commodity market by adding in value and creating an offer, you can find that video by clicking the link HERE.

So please go and check that out, because then I guess it puts a little bit of context behind what this blog post is all about, because yes, there are companies out there now who's only option; the only thing they can offer is cheaper and cheaper training (because training is now a commodity and the race when you become a commodity is in price. Thus, whoever delivers the cheapest product generally wins, in terms of sales, not necessarily in terms of profitability or longevity). BUT, they're not able to provide any additional support, guidance OR value to the proposition...

Just look at the information we give away for FREE and compare that to the information that some of these other companies are asking you to PAY for!

So, there are some companies, some NQEs,  that are just racing down in price, and that's all well and good, because I suppose in a way it makes everybody else flex their muscles. It makes everybody else create an offer, or those people will disappear. It's great because it reduces that barrier to entry.

When we talk about safety being the most important thing in aviation, which it is, then actually price shouldn't be a barrier to entry. It should be that we get quality training and, however much that costs, we get it done.

From our side as a provider actually reducing that price removes the cost as a barrier to entry and helps everybody learn more and to operate more safely. But here's the thing; there is a definite trade-off between price being the only thing you can offer and being able to build extra value into your offer - and deliver that additional training & learning to students as they build and grow.

Part of that in the service which we offer is this blog and across our YouTube Channel. If we provide this for free, what kind of quality do we provide to our students when they pay for our courses?

It'd be really interesting to know actually - if you haven't been on our courses, please jump in the comments down below and let us know if the videos on our channel and the content in the blogs that we're creating, are plugging gaps for you.

Because again, if it is, if we're plugging gaps by saying:

  • This is what you need to do to renew your PfCO
  • This is what you need to do to update your operations manual

Then actually as an industry, we need to know that and feed that back to the regulator.

We need to feed that back to the training schools, because they really should be helping you out as PfCO holders, as students of theirs, as customers of theirs... So that you don't have to go to external sources and find out all of this information.

This blog post really, got triggered by a conversation that I had a couple of days ago at an event; with somebody who had done our ICARUS 1 course. It's a totally FREE training course which you can sign up to by clicking the link HERE.

This chap had done ICARUS 1 almost a year ago; when we first launched it. He loved it, loved the content and found it really useful. He's subscribed to the YouTube channel, so uses our content to help him stay up to date but he went to somebody else to do his training... AND THAT'S NO PROBLEM!

Having chatted to him, he'd gone somewhere else because their price was, at the time, a little bit less than ours. We had a short conversation about the channel and how useful he found it and then we bid our farewells and he walked off...

But then came back and said,


"Oh, while you're here, actually, good to have someone in the room knows what they're on about. How do I add a drone into my operations manual? I've submitted my information to the CAA to get my PfCO, but I haven't yet been given it. I'm in that kind of 28 working day period where I've submitted and I'm waiting for it. I want to buy a new drone from this event and I want to add it into my ops manual, so how do I do that?"

I just said, "Surely your NQE have told you this?"

His reply, "Er, no, they just made me write an operations manual and that was it. I did it with the drone I had at the time, and off I went.".

Me: "Right, okay, cool. Go onto the channel, there's a video for it. There is literally a video which shows you how to add your aircraft and how to update your operations manual if you do so." 

Him: "Oh okay, brilliant. Okay, cool. Then presumably I need to submit it to the CAA?"

Me: Exasperated Sigh... "No."

Why are NQEs not teaching these things to people? It's basics.

One of the reasons it's taking the CAA 28 working days to turn PfCO applications around lately is because they're inundated with people asking questions about things which they should have been made aware by their NQE. They're submitting documents for renewal when they don't NEED to...

A lot of the NQEs now are people who, once you are a PfCO holder, will be are the same market as you...

The big question then is:

"Are some of the NQEs who are operators first and have set themselves up as training entities to help bolster their revenue, not being as helpful as they could be because they don't want to offer that help? You are going to be their competition after all! 

Just some food for thought and things to bear in mind and think about!

As a way of helping you to decide on who may be the best training partner for you; we've compiled a list of questions which you should ask all your potential NQEs:

  • What experience do they have? And that's not just instructional experience, it's all well and good being military fast jet pilots, or airline pilots for British Airways for 30 years. What experience have they got in the aero-modeling market? What experience have they got in the operational drone market?
  • What business experience do they have? We give away for free, a lot of marketing and business advice, and for us building that element up within our training, giving it away for free to you, is super important. Because if you're successful, then we're successful. You'll keep coming back. You'll keep telling people about us.
  • What experience do they have in terms of not just aviation and instruction, but aviation instruction and operating in the drone market, in the UAV space, and what guidance and help and support are they going to give you?
  • How many independently verified, public reviews do they have and what are people saying about them? The best place for us, if you want to check us out and how we do things is by taking a look at our Trustpilot reviews. We've just smashed through 500 reviews - more than twice as much as the nearest competitor.

So, a bit of a longer one today (it is a Sunday after all!)... Let us know what your thoughts are; and if you like the longer or shorter format of posts - we're here to deliver the help and advice that YOU want and need, not what we think you should be seeing... But the only way we can give you what you want is if you let us know! :)

As always, make sure you sign up to the newsletter at the bottom of the page so that we can keep you up-to-date with all of the latest offers, announcements and news as and when it's drops.

Fly safe and blue skies


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