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AJS Support UK commercial operator trends 2013 – 2019

Alan Stevens – ALS Support

Over the last 11 years, AJS Support Ltd (AJSSL) has been following the developments and trends within the vast scope of the UK drone industry. This work is used in support of our customers who are looking strategically towards future delivery, optimisation or use of sUAS capabilities.

One of these areas that we monitor is the number of registered operators. Within this aspect, we see that there are a growing number of “commercial operator lists”. These are advertised as reference sources for service customers to identify professional and insured UK commercial small Unmanned Surveillance Aircraft (sUSA) operators. Most of these claim to to be the best, first or the leading source for potential customers requiring the services of a commercial sUSA operator to source. These are usually free to customers and subscribed to by operators paying to be a member and listed to generate leads.

AJSSL has chosen not to be listed on these lists, however, like all PFCO owners, we are listed on the UK CAA authoritative list of current holders of the CAA permission.  This list is updated at least on a monthly basis, but recently it has been more frequently. This has a reference is CAP1361 – Small Unmanned Aircraft (SUA) operators holding a valid CAA permission. At the time of writing this post we are at List Version 74 dated 11 Jan 2019.

CAP1361 is published in pdf and provides a simple list of Company Name, PFCO ID# and expiry dates. This is in Company Name order and is not an ideal format for potential customers to identify a local provider.

Currently A Turnover Trickle

AJSSL has been tracking the UK CAA PFAW/PFCO List content since around November 2013. I was prompted to write this when I saw the list imported into the tracking tool and Dec 2018 / Jan 2019 is the first time I have noticed a drop in numbers of operators on the list. This is a point when the last UK CAA Permission For Commercial Operation (PFCO) ID is #8295 and there are some 4913 operators currently listed.

With each new list published, we have previously observed a steady increase in the quantity of operators on the list with new UK CAA PFCO IDs listed. Over the years, there has been a noticeable turnover of operators with quantities of operators no longer appearing on the list. See the graphic above. The key trend of the actual number of UK CAA PFCO Operators appearing on the list is the lower (Orange line). The blue line is tracking the highest PFCO ID# on each list.


Dec 2018 / Jan 2019 is the first time we have seen a fall in the quantity of operators on the list. Whilst the UK CAA are issuing new ID number on each list, the overall quantity of operators has dropped by a small amount.

Typically, we have seen an increase of on average 100 operators per month appearing on the CAP 1361 List throughout any year. This latest fall in the quantity of operators during Dec and Jan could simply be a seasonal blip. This could be due to any number of current uncertainties within UK at the moment, including the imminent changes in legislation.

So What …..

This latest reduction in numbers is only based on a very recent and short period. This instance is not necessarily an indication of a future sustained reduction or stagnation of drone commercial operators flying in the UK. It may be due to one or more of a number of reasons.

We are aware of an increasing number of operators that under the current UK CAA rules are using drones without permission as part of their business. With so many illegal operators undercutting PFCO operators, with minimal overheads of a fully approved operator; more are now contemplating taking their chances with operating without a PFCO.

This is only our current feeling and these are indeed interesting times. We will continue to monitor the turnover of operators in the UK and we look forward to seeing what 2019 brings to the commercial drone industry in the UK.

AJSSL are experienced professional aviation specialists and will always promote the safe and legal practical use of drones to all our commercial and recreational customers.


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