UAV Pilot – Profession or Hobby- What’s the Difference?

UAV Pilot – Profession or Hobby- What’s the Difference?

UAVs are filling up the skies. Anyone can buy one off the shelf of their local gadget shop or order one off Amazon, setting them back as little as a few hundred pounds.  Many of these drones are capable of carrying lightweight cameras. So what’s the difference between a hobbyist flyer and a professional UAV operator? 

Legality – do they have permission?

The first reason relates to legality. UAV operators are bound by law to have a ‘Permission for Aerial Work’ (PfAW) granted by the Civil Aviation Authority. This Permission demonstrates that an organisation has qualified, competent pilots and that their operations comply with laws including the Data Protection Act and aviation regulations. Whilst hobbyist fliers are bound by the same aviation regulations, their operations are not audited regularly by the Civil Aviation Authority making deviations from the law much harder to police. Amateur fliers are also much less likely to have a good awareness of Air Law, as it is not mandatory for them to have undergone any formal training (see article on training requirements for more details), unlike professional pilots. Without a PfAW, any commercial work undertaken by a pilot is illegal.

Safety – are they insured?

Another reason to choose a professional UAV operator is safety. In order to be granted a PfAW, they must demonstrate sufficient public liability insurance and must have a range of emergency procedures in place should an accident occur. Hobbyist fliers do not.

Professional UAV operators also tend to have much higher specification equipment than amateur fliers, which are much safer to fly and better equipped to deal with emergencies. For example, the Skyjib 8 is one of the best UAVs available in terms of safety; it has a dual motor redundancy (so it can still fly if up to two motors fail), dual power supply, multiple low battery alarms and a number of emergency mechanisms.   

What happens when things go wrong?

Thirdly is the notion of operator robustness. Amateur pilots tend to be one-man, one-platform crews. If something happens to them or their equipment, they cannot fly and your timeframe is delayed. A professional operation should offer a fully resourced team e.g. at Remote Aerial Surveys, there are four qualified pilots, five UAVs and multiple camera options, so downtime is never an issue.

Finally, are the pictures any better?

Well, in a word, yes. The professional operator will offer an enhanced level of data and image quality. Professional UAV pilots are more likely to be highly experienced, better trained and extremely skilled in remote piloting and in aerial image and data acquisition.

Aside from the necessary legal and safety requirements they are much more likely to have the high specification, well maintained equipment essential for capturing high quality imagery and data.

In short, if you want better aerial images, in-depth training and superior equipment add up to better levels of accuracy, precision, detail and scale.