Writing at the Washington Post’s Innovations blog, Matt McFarland reviews the approach to small, commercial drone licensing in Great Britain, where the “Civil Aviation Authority — an equivalent to the FAA — has approved three companies to provide training on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that weigh less than 45 pounds.”  The training and licensing regimen is notable in that, unlike the FAA’s requirements in a number of Section 333 exemptions and in its pending rules, Britain does not require operators to hold a pilot’s license for manned aircraft.

One of the approved training companies, Sky-Futures,

sends trainees a ground school manual to gain an understanding of how airspace operates and how to read an air map. Newbies are given a month at home with the manual, but experienced manned aircraft pilots are required to spend far less time with it.

Sky-Futures then puts trainees through two days of ground school and three weeks of actual flight training in Spain. Aside from much of the summer, the British group heads to Spain for the drier conditions and clear skies. Lessons take place at an approved test site. Students learn everything from how to navigate around objects to how to operate a camera on a drone safely.

And who wouldn’t enjoy three weeks in Spain, especially when looking to escape the (mostly) crappy weather in the UK?  That might, of course, assume that you can spare the time.  Good luck monitoring your business if you’re a real estate broker.

Then there’s the other catch:  the cost is roughly $12,000.  The director of training at Sky-Futures, himself a Boeing 747 pilot, calls this a “gold-plated standard.”  Gold-plated or not, it might put the training out of reach for aspiring freelancers.

The downstream requirements are much less onerous.  Once a pilot is certified, he needs to submit an operations manual and proof of insurance.  But otherwise, the regulations are fairly minimal, and reasonably risk-based (operators of drones over 15 lbs have to notify air traffic control before flying).

We see a danger of regulatory capture, here.  Training schools like this will of course have a vested interest in lobbying for greater – but not too much – complexity.

Still, we think that this is better than nothing, and it seems far more reasonable than what is rumored to be in store from the FAA.  But three weeks of training, at a cost exceeding $10k, still seems like something that is going to create unreasonable barriers to entry for operators of small drones.

We give this regulatory framework a B+.