Conal Ferguson, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Operator and Managing Director of Stornoway-based HebDrone, has become the first person to successfully complete the UK’s only training standard for industrial drone operators.
Approved by the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB), the Industrial Drone Operations Training Course was developed by Aberdeen-based Texo Compliance to ensure that the next generation of drone operators attain and develop the skills and knowledge they need to operate safely in heavy industrial environments that have specific operational hazards and constraints.
The development of the new course followed the launch of ECITB’s Industrial Drone Operations Training and Assessment Standard, again the first in the UK.
Conal, who set up HebDrone in November 2016 with his business partner Duncan, has been flying drones for three years. The company, which carries out Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Inspection and survey services throughout the UK and Europe, both on and offshore, operates three different types of drone including the DJI Matrice 210 RTK, which is IP-rated and allows the operation of dual cameras simultaneously, such as the Z30 zoom and XT thermal. They also operate the DJI Phantom 4 Pro, used primarily for aerial mapping, and the DJI Inspire 1 Pro, which is ideal for aerial filming and back-up inspection.
Conal applied for the course to help improve his skillset and knowledge, and to gain an industry-recognised certification.
“Currently, the only standard for drone operators is the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) permission for commercial operations (PfCO), but the course set up by Texo Compliance and ECITB gives added protection to the client and shows that the operator has met higher standards.”
The past 10 years has seen increased use of UAVs in the industrial environment; however, Conal said that drone operators still face a number of challenges in today’s climate, one of which is convincing companies of the numerous benefits of the use of drones such as reducing risk, time-saving and reduction of cost in areas such as infrastructure inspection, their use has quadrupled in the last two years.
While the need to work at height using rope access, cherry pickers and scaffolding for repairs will always be there, companies can reduce the time needed at height by first conducting a UAV inspection.
The numbers of unregulated UAV operators are also an issue, as they can be of risk to the safety of client personnel as well as assets, and companies who use them may find themselves in trouble with the authorities.
“The CAA is starting to crack down on this and bring in penalties to those operating illegally, or hiring illegally,” said Conal.
“When hiring a commercial UAV operator, you would expect the job to be done safely and efficiently and, currently, commercial insurance cannot be obtained without a CAA PfCO. The operator with a PfCO has met a strict theory and practical assessment and is fully up-to-date with all regulations.
“This new assessment by Texo Compliance and ECITB is of an even higher standard, with a more complex testing procedure that is focused primarily on industrial applications.
“Texo Compliance’s test site itself is a great set-up, and allows for thorough testing of the UAV platform and operator. Everything was very well set out and explained fully prior to the test and the entire experience was fantastic. It was all very friendly and I was made to feel at ease straight away. I would definitely recommend it to other drone pilots.”
Following identification of the need for a national standard, industry employers approached the ECITB with a view to developing a competence model that would look to not only train and assure the competence of individual UAV operators, but also require them to validate ongoing competence over a rolling period.
The Industrial Drone Operations Training Course is available to anyone who has passed the CAA PfCO scheme and can meet the course pre-requisites. It has four stages including off-the-job training at an ECITB-approved centre; this is consolidated through drone operations on a live industrial site with 30 logged flying hours required within three to 12 months of initial training.
The third stage comprises formal technical testing at an ECITB-approved centre using the ECITB technical testing platform, while the final stage is renewal of the ECITB technical test certificate at 36 months through formal re-assessment. If the candidate can demonstrate sufficient experience, they can go straight to the formal technical assessment without the need for initial stage one off the job training.