Drone training - NATS RPAS Course

Hi all,

First, a ‘hello’ - I recently joined the forum, and this is my first contribution. Following a chat with PingSpike, I offered to share my experience of taking the NATS Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) course (just completed). This post will be longer than a few lines, so be advised :slightly_smiling_face:

I decided I wanted to do a formal course with a view to obtaining permissions from the CAA for commercial RPAS operations. An internet search revealed quite a few companies that run such courses, but I also found a link to the NATS course. The three day course was at the slightly more expensive end of costs, since I saw some courses advertised for around about £900, and the NATS course is £1,200 including VAT. In the end I decided to go with NATS - since they run air traffic control in the UK, I figured they’d be best placed to talk about the challenges of operating a drone commercially.

The three day course agenda covered (amongst other things):

  • RPAS Regulators
  • Law
  • Insurance
  • Meteorlogical elements
  • Navigation
  • FPV
  • Human factors
  • Practical Operations
  • Ops Manual
  • Pre/Post flight checklists

Clearly I have no other course to compare it against, but I felt it answered all of my questions on drone operations, and met all of my training expectations. It was a very good experience working with enthusiastic aviation professionals, who also fly drones in their spare time. Being able to ask a 35 year air traffic control veteran all of my course and drone-related questions, and discuss them at length, was hugely beneficial to increasing my knowledge.

The course was very helpful not just from the formal structure aspect - being able to chat about Lipoly battery safety/reliability and useful drone apps was also beneficial. As for the practical flight test, it was a real eye opener being able to test fly a Phantom 2, before using my Mavic for the flight test. If you cut your teeth on the P2, I doff my cap to you :smiley:

So, if you’re thinking about doing some commercial work with your drone, I can wholeheartedly recommend considering going on the NATS course. Great guys, who’re very friendly and approachable, and who really know what their talking about. They’re very focussed on the safety aspect of being a drone pilot, and the training course really reflects this.

If anyone has any questions, feel free to ask. Happy flying!


Blimey @Davester70, what a first contribution :open_mouth: :+1:

So, welcome to the Grey Arrows Drone Club :smiley:

Thanks for sharing your experiences, really useful to know.

I do! :slight_smile:

Is this the same thing as a PfCO? Following this course you can now legally charge people for your commercial services?

What happened at the end of the course, were you assessed on your flying ability? What sort of manoeuvres did you have to do? And did you use the Mavic for the test itself? (the P2 was just optional?)

How does the renewal work in a year from now? Does it cost the same amount of money or will the renewal be cheaper?

Sorry for all the questions, I’m just trying to work out if I can make some :beer: money on the side :slight_smile:

Thanks PingSpike :smile:

In answer to your questions in order:

  1. Yes - having successfully completed the training, NATS (under their role as a National Qualified Entity) recommend to the CAA that the course attendee is given ‘permissions for commercial operations’, which I think is the PfCO you mentioned. This link might be helpful: https://www.nats.aero/services/consultancy/training/drone-certification-uk/

And yes, should the CAA now grant me these permissions, I’ll be able to charge for drone work once I receive them :slight_smile:

  1. Yes - a short assessment on flying ability took place. We were using a large indoor training facility for the course (a good idea for Scotland), so the flight test was done indoors. Basic eye level hovering, lateral movement of the drone, and figure 8 flying was covered (harder than it sounds). I did indeed use my Mavic for the flight test, using my prop guards just in case I had a wobbly moment. No need, but good to be safe! The P2 was a real eye opener - I’m glad I had the chance to fly it, since it really reinforces how good the Mavic is, in terms of stability of flight.

  2. I don’t have the permissions yet, but assuming I do they will last for a year. As I understand, I can renew them in 12 months time, and will need to submit my commercial flight logs for the year at that time. I believe it costs £173 for the initial application, and then £130 per yer for renewal.

You may well be able to make some money on the side :slight_smile: All I would say is that appropriate commercial insurance is one unavoidable cost to bear in mind.

The big eye opener for me was in the detail of areas both commercial and recreational flights can take place - I assumed places like parks would be fine, as long as there were few people about. Through the course I learned the definition of ‘congested area’, and it was a real eye opener!

Coincidentally I just watched this video which covers most of the points Davester70 mentions above. Yes, @PingSpike, it’s the guy that ‘does your head in’ but you only need watch the first seven minutes or so. :wink:


@Davester70 Thanks for the detailed reply, very grateful!

Was the figure of eight with the camera facing forwards at all times?

And was the P2 unstable due to no downward vision positioning? The Mavic seems to fly well indoors with no GPS due to the downward cameras :+1:

FERA fly some of our customers farms and on the occasions I’ve been with them, it has taken them longer to do all the paperwork and pre-flight routine than it has to fly a ten hectare field :roll_eyes:

So that’s always put me off a little bit really… but that said, if there’s an opportunity to make a few quid I’d probably not complain at the paperwork :wink:

@Londroner I’ll watch that video… on mute :smiley:

@PingSpike You’re very welcome :slight_smile:

Yes, the figure of 8 was with the camera facing forwards. It’s quite a tricky little manoeuver! I’m not sure precisely why the P2 was so unstable - I suspect it’s to do with the downward cameras, and also the general improvement in drone technology between the P2 and the Mavic.

You’re right that the paperwork is a big part of the job.I guess that’s the price we pay for safe operations. I suspect it becomes second-nature, like most things. And if it means you get to fly more, that’s not so bad :smile:

Davester - I couldn’t agree more!
I took my CAA test with a Phantom 2, and it was a wobbly little bugger. No matter which mode I used.

I always regarded a commercial flight with a mixture of excitement and great trepidation. But since buying a Mavic I can’t wait to get airborne and start recording. The thing is pretty much nailed to the sky.

Incidentally, your PfCO will cover your Mavic even if your Ops Manual specifies the Phantom (like mine does). The CAA don’t want the extra paperwork, and as they’re both sub-7kg you can just replace the P2 with the Mavic in the Ops Manual next time you renew.


@PsychoTeapot - taking your test with a P2? I’m seriously impressed. It was such a handful :slight_smile:

Thanks for the pointer on the drone listed in the Ops Manual. Looking forward to getting out there to see what the Mavic can be used for!