If you hold CAA Permissions and fly drones in the UK, do you need to 'upgrade' to the GVC, and if you do, what are the options? In this article, UAVHub CEO, Matt Williams (MR MPW / The Drone Mentor) explores and explains the options available to Drone Pilots in the UK...
As a drone operator in the UK, you're likely aware of the recent changes in drone regulations. If you currently hold an Operational Authorisation (OA) (sometimes still referred to by some organisations, operators and drone pilots as a ‘Permission for Commercial Work’ or ‘PfCO’), you may be wondering what these changes mean for you… The answer likely lies in ‘converting’ over from a ‘PfCO’ (actually the ‘NQE Recommendation’ you’ll have originally received from your Drone Training School) to the new ‘GVC’, by completing a GVC Conversion Course.
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What is a GVC Conversion Course?
The GVC Conversion Course is a crucial step for drone operators transitioning from an NQE Recommendation to a General Visual Line of Sight Certificate (GVC), because the UK Civil Aviation Authority (UK CAA) now requires all pilots operating under an OA to have a GVC by 1st January 2024.
The GVC Conversion Course is designed to help existing drone certification holders easily convert to a GVC. It's not a direct conversion, as the GVC replaces the old certificate of competence (The NQE Recommendation I mentioned above). But don't worry, we’ve worked with the CAA to make it as easy and time/cost-effective for PfCO/NQE Recommendation holders to transition to a GVC, and they are allowing holders to maintain an OA without a GVC until the end of 2023.
This is actually a CRITICAL part of the current legislation for drone operators to understand… As you’d expect (and I’m sure if you’re reading this guide, you may be feeling it too! :)), lots of people are feeling frustrated with the UK CAA and the current state of the drone regulations, permissions and licensing in the UK at the moment.
We really do hear you, and we feel this too… (see a video HERE that I created as an ‘Open Letter to the CAA at the start of 2023 to try and help express this for the community).
But, this time round… If you’re frustrated about having to convert to the GVC; it’s worth bearing in mind that we’re actually operating in a ‘grace period’, granted to us by the UK CAA.
The GVC has now (unbelievably!) been around for quite some time… Introduced in early 2020, the CAA’s original intent was to make everyone move over to the new system pretty much immediately. With very little provenance given to the fact that people were operating safely under the ‘current’ (at the time) PfCO/NQE Recommendation system.
As a community and as a training organisation, we pushed back HARD against this ‘hard cutoff’ and thus, are currently operating in a system where some people are flying against their original training/recommendation certificates, some people are flying under a GVC because they have ‘converted’ over to the new system and some people who have recently entered the drone world came straight into the ‘new system’ and haven’t known anything else! 🙂
So, for once… I think we should ‘go easy(ish)’ on the CAA, and, instead of getting frustrated at being ‘forced to convert’ to the GVC, actually thank them for letting us continue using our old recommendations for as long as they have.
But, all good things MUST come to an end, and, with more notice than we usually get from the UK’s airspace regulator… If you want to continue exercising the privileges of flying drones in the Specific Category in the UK; the time is nigh to get your GVC if you haven’t done so already.
Why Do You Need a GVC Conversion Course?
The GVC Conversion Course is more than just a regulatory requirement. It's an opportunity to refresh your knowledge, stay updated with the latest drone laws in the UK, and continue your drone operations without interruption.
Bear in mind that when most people who are looking to ‘convert’ to a GVC went through their training (and this may include you if you’ve made it this far), the UK Drone Rules were very much different to what they look like today.
For example, now - the CAA ‘own’ the risk assessments for operations under ‘PDRA-01’... Ask yourself honestly… Do you know what this means? Do you know how it affects you as a drone operator in terms of what you can and can’t do? Do you know legally, where you stand by agreeing to operate under a ‘PDRA’, as defined by the UK CAA?
If not, then this may be one thing to highlight the need to get some up-to-date training, and brush up on your knowledge of the current regulations that we fly under as commercial drone pilots in the UK! 🙂
The GVC Conversion course covers the process of converting from an NQE Recommendation Certificate to a GVC and moving from an operations-based approach to a risk-centric one.
It includes video-based E-Learning of the GVC syllabus, a remote online theory examination, operations manual update to the CAA’s current PDRA-01 requirements, and, ultimately, the award of your General VLOS Certificate (your GVC).
Who Should Take the GVC Conversion Course?
The GVC Conversion Course is for those who already have a current CAA OA (formerly PfCO) and an NQE Recommendation Certificate. If you're a remote pilot looking to continue your drone operations in the Specific Category, this course is for you.
How Does the GVC Conversion Course Work?
Generally, the GVC Conversion Course is delivered through an on-demand, video-based learning system. It includes attending all GVC modules as a refresher, sitting the same GVC theory exam as all full GVC Course candidates. If you can provide evidence of 2 hours of drone flying in the 3 months running up to the course, 8 hours flight time from the 12 months preceding your GVC theory exam AND your current OA from the CAA then you’re also exempt from the flight test element.
If you can’t provide these pieces of evidence, then you’ll need to take the full GVC Course & you won’t be able to ‘convert’.
So - if you’ve not done much flying OR you’ve let your CAA permissions lapse, I’m afraid you’re out of luck and you’ll need to complete the ‘full’ GVC Course, and apply to the CAA, using your GVC, for an ‘Initial Issue of an Operational Authorisation’.
The Importance of a GVC Conversion Course
The GVC Conversion Course is not just about meeting regulatory requirements. It's about ensuring that you, as a drone operator, are equipped with the knowledge and skills to operate safely and efficiently in the evolving drone landscape.
With the GVC Conversion Course, you can continue to operate in the Specific Category with the same privileges as before, while also gaining a deeper understanding of the latest UK drone laws and regulations.
The GVC Conversion Course is a critical step for drone operators in the UK. It ensures that you can continue your drone operations in line with the latest regulations, while also enhancing your knowledge and skills.
If you’re a drone operator or remote pilot, flying drones in the UK and you hold an original ‘NQE Recommendation Certificate’, the GVC Conversion Course is your path to continued drone operations in the UK.
Don't wait until the last minute - start your conversion course today and stay ahead of the curve… These next few months will fly by and before you know it, you’ll be fighting with the poor UK autumn/winter weather, fall behind on your flight hours and the opportunity to ‘convert’ to the GVC won’t be an option for you anymore…
UAVHub offer the UK's most popular UK CAA GVC Conversion Courses which you can find HERE.
We were the first RAE to be officially authorised by the CAA to deliver a ‘GVC conversion course’ under our RAE Exposition and were also the first to get approval from the CAA to allow people who have a certain level of competency (the 2 hours flying in the 3 months prior to entering the GVC conversion course) to NOT require a flight test component as part of their conversion.
I hope you’ve found this article useful, and if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to give the UAVHub Team a shout… We’re here and happy to help! :)
Fly safe & Blue Skies,
Frequently Asked Questions - FAQs
Q: What is the deadline for converting to a GVC?
A: The CAA requires all pilots operating under an OA to have a GVC by 1st January 2024.
Q: Can I continue to operate under my NQE Recommendation Certificate until the end of 2023?
A: Yes, the CAA is allowing ‘PfCO Course’/NQE Recommendation holders to maintain an OA without a GVC until the end of 2023. If you don’t have your GVC then you CANNOT fly under an OA after the 31st December 2023… EVEN IF your OA is valid beyond this date!
Q: What does the GVC Conversion Course include?
A: The GVC Conversion Course includes video-based E-Learning of the GVC syllabus, a remote online theory examination, operations manual update to PDRA-01 standards, and the award of the General VLOS Certificate. If you need a flight test because you don’t meet the ‘2 hours in 3 months flying’, then we can arrange this for you, too.
Q: Who should take the GVC Conversion Course?
A: The GVC Conversion Course is ideal for those who already have a current CAA OA (formerly PfCO) and an NQE Recommendation Certificate.
Q: How is the GVC Conversion Course delivered?
A: The GVC Conversion Course is delivered through an on-demand, video-based learning system. The flight test is conducted in-person with one of our examiners if required.
Q: Why is the GVC Conversion Course important?
A: The GVC Conversion Course is important because it ensures that drone operators are equipped with the knowledge and skills to operate safely and efficiently in line with the latest UK drone laws and regulations.
Q: What happens if I don't convert to a GVC by 1st January 2024?
A: If you don't convert to a GVC by 1st January 2024, you will no longer be able to operate under an OA. This could impact your drone operations and potentially lead to legal consequences.
Q: Can I take the GVC Conversion Course online?
A: Yes, the GVC Conversion Course is delivered online, making it convenient for you to complete at your own pace.
Q: What is the difference between a PfCO and a GVC?
A: A PfCO is a Permission for Commercial Operations, which was the previous requirement for commercial drone operations in the UK. A GVC, or General Visual Line of Sight Certificate, is the new requirement for all pilots operating under an OA.
Q: What is an OA?
A: An OA, or Operational Authorisation, is a certification issued by the CAA that allows drone operators to perform certain operations that are otherwise restricted.
Remember, the GVC Conversion Course is not just a regulatory requirement - it's an investment in your future as a drone operator. By staying updated with the latest drone laws and enhancing your skills, you can continue to operate safely and efficiently in the evolving drone landscape!