What is an NQE? Everything you need to know about CAA NQE's

What Does the Acronym N.Q.E. Stand for?

NQE stands for National Qualified Entity. An NQE is an organisation that has been assessed by the Civil Aviation Authority and given the authority to make recommendations for a Permission for Commercial Operation which allows you to use drones commercially. 

An NQE is approved by the CAA under the authority of article 268 of the UK Air Navigation Order 2016 (the Order) and as such the approval is bounded by the limits of UK legislation. This limitation similarly extends to any permission, exemption of other approval that is granted under the Order. You can access CAA Information Notice on NQE here

Which NQE Should I Choose?

There are now over 30 NQEs; a huge rise since we first started delivering training in 2015. For anyone looking to get their Permission for Commercial Operation (PfCO) (similar but definitely not a drone licence) this presents a complex challenge, working out who to pick: Reputation, Experience, Testimonials, Location, Price, Date and so on.

More often than not this then becomes a shot in the dark, asking people on drone forums, getting recommendations from those who like yourselves were new to the industry when they started and went to the very small pool of NQEs who were around even only one year ago or by a glossy website. By that point you have also sent a generic email to almost all 30 NQEs, called a few of those who replied to that initial enquiry and valued your service enough to reply in the first place (we do that every time) and based on that made a decision.

Yet if we step back and look at what it is that has gotten anyone interested in getting their PfCO, it is to be able to operate drones for valuable consideration or commercial gain (or be considered an accredited pilot if you are in the Blue Light services). However as per the CAA's delegation of authority: all Full NQEs are required to offer is - assessing theory competence, flight skill plus an approval of a candidates Operations Manual.

So consider an analogy: you get your manned airline pilots licence (Frozen ATPL, out of flight school) and that is it – you are automatically guaranteed a good income for the rest of your career? Of course not, competition is fierce and you need to know your market, where the jobs are, how will you find the work – which training school is held in higher esteem by airlines and so on. And that is before you might even start enrolling on a course which nowadays costs in excess of £80000..

So let's consider the state of the UK Drone Industry. It’s always stated that this is a fledgling, booming market yet some people are selling up already after only a few years of operating in the industry. Why? What can you do? And how does UAVAir fit into all this?

Firstly, let's consider some of the problems: for the hobbyist who wants to move into the commercial environment – what will be your target market? Aside from a few friends that have offered you work, where will your next step be after that? How will you be marketing yourself? What will be your day rate to cover your expenses and so on? What will be your USP versus any other operator out there?


Let’s just consider the financial side to all this. To start with due to the inclement weather you are likely to have only 100 flying days available per year. Assume £25000 desired income plus (maintenance, insurance, training, buying a drone, software processing, website design, promotion fees, trade shows, networking, association memberships) you are very quickly looking at needing to generate an income of £30000. Therefore without doing any further calculations your absolute minimum daily rate would be £300 as a ballpark reference point. Can you afford to go full-time, and part-time will you devoting enough resources to make it a success?

Adding Drone Technology to Your Existing Business

Next, let's look at the business who wishes to add a drone option to their existing portfolio; surveyors, engineers, photographers, journalists, and sports analysts This may in the first instance look more straightforward, but the numbers can also be just as challenging alongside some non-tangible issues. You have to measure the cost-benefit of the time taken off work against how much extra revenue you will generate from having the drone. More often than not businesses who come through the course are adopting drones on a trial basis and thus the urgency to get qualified is less than the keen individual. This also manifests itself in the motivation of the attendee/employee who has not necessarily been interested in drones until being asked to attend a course. Then the drone offering is not likely to be the main part of the business, so ensuring diligence in keeping up to speed with respect to all things aviation such as NOTAMS, flying proficiency may be diminished.

So how can UAVAir make a difference to you and your entrance into the drone industry? One mistake people new to the market make is to see price as a differentiator. This only leads to a race to the bottom among NQEs, to gain perceived market share at the expense of quality, after all – it’s just a theory exam and flight test that people want isn’t it?

Yet when you factor before you start comparing prices of NQEs you have to have bought a drone. From our experience in delivering these courses, the Phantom 4 is currently the base minimum most people will be starting their businesses with, in part due to its ease of use and quality of product versus cheaper offerings in the market (notice a trend here) – circa £700-1000, commercial insurance - £800, CAA Initial Application Fee - £247 – so before all the other elements to get your business up and running are considered as I mentioned earlier, you’ve already spent £2000-3000 so scrimping on cost in the training element is not going to help you at all.

We believe that by supporting you from the first time you contact us, providing industry-leading customer service through to post-PFCO guidance and graduate services for our candidates, we can help you realise the full potential of the drone industry and make sure you have been looked after and helped you the right way.

How we do this is making sure that the 3-day Fast-Track solution is just the apex of our full-service commitment to you. We are focussed on safety only and thus know our offering is the best around as it’s what we specialise in and refine every day. 

Instead, once you contact us we can offer in conjunction with our partners, who have all teamed up with us because of their belief in our customer-focussed offering and our desire to partner wherever possible the following steps to guide you on your way.:

Getting Started – buying the right drone for your operation?

Often you will buy the drone then look at the career – maybe looking at what you want to do first is the better way to go. Start with what you want to achieve and work backwards. We also offer a repair service and importantly, that first hour of getting to know your drone with someone to talk you through, set you up and get you going in the right path, and so become aware of the aviation laws that apply to you from your first baby steps. By making personal contact with you in such a test flight, we want to make sure there is a face to the company.

Developing your Skills

More often that not this is where students are left to their own devices to build enough flying experience, looking at YouTube videos for lessons or flying with a buddy. We offer a more structured, professional solution than that which is what prospective clients will expect as this industry develops. Our bespoke training gives you an introduction into the before and after flight discipline, which is just as important as the flying itself when you go out into the field. So developing an identical pre-flight routine, usage of checklists etc, every time, in addition to the key part of assessing where your flying skills are and techniques to improve them. UAVAir has deliberately made sure that we only work with the best professional drone pilots from within the industry-leading Association of RPAS (ARPAS) to instruct who are already forging successful careers so that you can benefit from their real-life on the job knowledge.

Distance Learning

This of course is in addition to studying the distance learning material we supply that gets you prepared for our Ground School course, which includes our Course Study Manual, Flight Reference handbook, videos and quizzes and we keep checking up on you throughout this whole period to check on your progress and make sure you are fully prepared for your course attendance with us.

Unmanned Aircraft Qualification

Part of our success is down to the fact that delivering our courses we have the perfect blend of experienced drone pilots who have the real-world practical experience of what happens our there and can begin to give you a flavour of things to come and commercial airline pilots who are used to operating in a safety-first culture day-in day-out and have a deep-rooted knowledge of aviation.

The Flight Assessment should come as no surprise if you have gone through our course properly and not tried to cut too many corners in preparing thoroughly, using the relevant procedures and checklists.

One of the hardest areas for non-aviators is the Operations Manual. We supply you with a template and additional guidance but we won’t give you a cut and paste solution as we believe, as does the CAA, that only by writing your own will you benefit the most when conducting your own Operation in the field. However we give you plenty of assistance, including a 3-hour explainer video that goes through our whole Ops Manual template step-by-step, putting everything into context for you so you understand the whole process..

Graduate Support

We already have our active Facebook UAQ group which unlike the majority of other NQE forums is actively manned and staffed by the our support team, instructors, current and former students so we are there to answer every question thrown at us. However this is the bit where people need that post-course help the most and we are here to give that.

We offer basic business advice services such as the best approaches to get business, or employment as a drone pilot and who is hiring. One of the key things is for new students to be able to see how all the theory works in real life and in giving you a mentoring service, all our graduates will be allowed to witness the highs and lows of the operation and the challenging side of the industry as well, waiting for a clear spot in the weather and commercial pressures to get a job done.

They may be times when you can’t quite remember a question or the old adage that two heads are better than one, so periodically we will have either an instructor or a graduate student in a YouTube live/Webinar event exclusively for UAVAir enrolled students. This will take the form of a Q&A or alternatively a Case-Study presentation to facilitate dialogue.

Continuous Professional Development. After a few months you might realise that your photography skills are only average or the way you shoot videos could be improved. We offer to UAVAir graduates the ability to attend one-day training courses which let them develop their professional standard and keep ahead of the pack. Subjects we offer are Night Ratings, Being a professional photographer and exploiting Lightroom, water launching etc.

An NQE can hold a great responsibility within the process of gaining your PFCO and by choosing the right one who can support you all the way, your value and appearance to any client will be considerably enhanced.

We Help Organisations Put Drones in the Sky Safely

When you enter the marketplace feeling able to control the aircraft safely, and have that professional operator philosophy from before even attending your Ground School, ready to take on the challenge of making your commercial drone operation a success you are far more likely to succeed.

All our commercial partners, professional drone operator instructors and leadership team are from across all aspects of aviation, including former NATS, CAA and military aviation, and have come together to make sure your journey from starting out to graduating is one that you can realise and make a success. This is what makes us special, this is the UAVAir experience.

To find out more about how we can help you please click here... or alternatively give our team a call today on 0208 0450 508 to find out how UAVAir can help you become a future commercial drone pilot and help you utilise drone technology in your business.

Updated 08/08/2018