Do you need a GVC Conversion Course?

by 4 Nov 2021

As PfCOs transition into Operational Authorisations for drone use in the UK, you may need to convert to GVC

2021 has seen the biggest shake up in UK drone laws since 2010. The new UK drone regulations came into force on the 31st December 2020 and, in theory, make some aspects of drone operations much easier. The key thing that the new rules do is remove the “one size fits all” element of the old PfCO system. Pilots now have the option of using drones in the Open Category or Specific category. I’m not going to explain the difference here. This post is aimed squarely at those of you who already hold an existing competency certification and hold a PfCO or Operational Authorisation (OA).

When you renew your PfCO during 2021, which most drone operators will have done by the time I am writing this in November 2021, it will transform into an Operational Authorisation as long as you are able to provide an updated operations manual to the CAA. Some operators have taken the option of dropping their PfCO to work solely under the Open Category but, in my experience, they are in a minority.

There are key advantages to maintaining an Operational Authorisation, which I will outline later.

For most PfCO holders, this is the process that will happen during 2021:

Transition from PfCO to Operational Authorisation

You can’t “convert” a PfCO to a GVC!!

This brings me to a key misconception that I hear all the time. Something along the lines of, “how do I convert my PfCO to GVC?” The short answer is, you don’t. As you can see from the diagram above, the PfCO is held by the drone “operator” or legal entity. The operator is normally a company, like Drone Training Ltd, but it can be a sole trader. So the PfCO or OA is held at that level. The General VLOS Certificate (GVC) is a personal certification held by you as the remote pilot (RP). So the GVC replaces your old certificate of competence that you will have received from either us or another NQE before we started running the GVC courses. With me so far?

The CAA are trying to make it easy for existing PfCO holders

The UK CAA have made it easy for you to transition from PfCO to OA. They have done this in two ways:

Firstly, the simplest form of the new Operational Authorisation, known as UKPDRA01, looks almost identical to the old PfCO. As a result you won’t have to change your procedures much if you are working under a standard PfCO without an operating safety case to reduce separations. There are actually some little increased freedoms to what you are allowed to do under the new system.

Secondly, the CAA are allowing you to hold an OA without a GVC until the 1st January 2024. That’s great, as it is one less thing to think about in this busy and unusual year. They are effectively giving you a bit of extra time to get yourself sorted out as you have held an existing permission already. It also gives you time to get used to the new system and to decide whether you want to maintain an OA moving forwards.

A little warning

If you let your PfCO lapse, you cannot apply for a new OA without a GVC and you cannot use remote pilots without GVCs, so effectively you forfeit your right to continue to use your legacy competency. If you have let your PfCO lapse, don’t panic, you can still use your existing personal competency certification to access the GVC Conversion Course.

How do you convert to GVC?

Under the new system, by 1st January 2024 all pilots operating under an OA must have a GVC. This removes some of the old exemptions that were in place for recreational pilots and pilots holding a pilot licence such as a PPL or ATPL. It also gives time for all legacy certifications to be converted to GVC.

We now offer a GVC Conversion Course to help you easily convert your existing drone certification into a GVC. To be able to access a conversion you must hold a previous proof of competence and be able to provide a copy.

A lot of pilots who have held their PfCO for a while may have missed important legislation information or knowledge may have become a bit rusty. As a result, when you complete the conversion course, we give you the option of attending all the GVC modules as a refresher. You will have to sit the same GVC theory exam as all full GVC Course candidates. If you can provide us with evidence of 2 hours of drone flying in the 3 months running up to your course (similar to what is expected as part of a CAA renewal) we can also exempt you from having to carry out a practical flight test. If you attend all modules and pass the examination we will also issue you an A2 CofC included in the cost of the course.

What are the advantages of an Operational Authorisation?

Maintaining an Operational Authorisation under UKPDRA01 will allow you to continue to use “legacy” drones in urban areas when that will not be allowed in the Open Category unless the drone is under 250g.

In the Open Category, all separation distances for drones over 500g are horizontal, so overflight is not permitted at any height, whereas, with an Operational Authorisation you can continue to apply the “bubble” rule and treat separation distances as a direct distance from the drone in any direction.

The Open Category itself has a lot of issues now that the UK is not allowing the use of CE or UK CA marked drones.

If you’d like to learn more about Open Category drone rules in the UK, please have a look at our Open Category on a page.

What is the format of the GVC Conversion Course?

The required modules are delivered over two days, either in the classroom or as a live webinar. We don’t use recorded content as we want you to be able to engage with your instructor and have the opportunity to ask questions. As some of the modules are very similar to the old syllabus (such as meteorology and navigation) you may be able to sit out of those, but it is recommended that you attend all modules if possible and you must attend certain modules such as the new air law and Open Category modules.

Multiple-choice exams will then either be carried out in the classroom or in 1:1 online sessions with one of our instructors. Once you have completed the exams, provided your flight logs and given evidence of your existing certifications, we can issue you with your GVC and A2CofC certification which will fully future-proof you for the new regulations. The certificates last 5 years.

We are offering this at a cost of £360 including VAT, with a discount for Pro members. Please see our shop for more details and bookings.

If you’d like to know more about our support services to assist with maintaining your paperwork bang up to date and carrying out your renewal in a timely and efficient manner, please smash the button below!

Fly safe you wonderful people!

The Global Drone Training team