Environment Agency Raises Drone Safety Standards With Ofqual Level 5 Award

Environment Agency Raises Drone Safety Standards With Ofqual Level 5 Award

Environment Agency drone pilot says TQUK Ofqual-regulated Level 5 UAS Operations Manager course is invaluable, as part of organisation's commitment to enhanced operating standards and flight safety. The course, delivered by heliguy™, helps UAS programmes with safety management systems, risk mitigation, and governance.

Last updated: Mar 01, 2023

5 minute read

  • Environment Agency drone pilot Andy Watkins praises Level 5 UAS Operations Manager course for helping the organisation in its commitment to enhanced flight safety and operational excellence;
  • The TQUK Ofqual-regulated course, delivered by heliguy™, enables accountable managers and drone project leaders to implement and maintain robust safety management systems, risk mitigation, and governance to raise standards in the unmanned aviation sector;
  • Andy believes the course will benefit the Environment Agency’s transition from successful trial through to a business-as-usual drone programme;
  • Drones have become a key tool for the Environment Agency, assisting its regulatory, compliance and enforcement work.

An Environment Agency drone pilot has described the Level 5 UAS Operations Manager course as invaluable - as part of the organisation’s commitment to enhanced operational standards and flight safety.

Andy Watkins, Waste Crime Engagement Specialist for the West Midlands, is one of the first operators in the UK to receive the new TQUK Award, after completing the Ofqual-regulated qualification with heliguy™.


Andy Watkins from the Environment Agency has praised the Ofqual Level 5 Award for Drone Managers.


Covering modules such as operational oversight, governance and assurance activities including auditing, maintenance, flight logs, team briefings, and hazard management, the course enables accountable managers and drone project leaders to confidently manage the complexities of a successful UAS programme.

It is designed to equip learners with the knowledge to implement and maintain a robust safety management system, including a safe system of work, risk mitigation, assurance, and governance to raise industry standards and facilitate safe, compliant, and effective UAS operations.

For Andy, the course was a valuable experience, which he believes will benefit the Environment Agency as it transitions from a successful four-year drone trial through to a fully-fledged in-house drone operation.



He said: “Safety in the UAS sector is absolutely paramount and is central to the Environment Agency’s drone operations.

“The course highlighted the importance of having strong policies and procedures in place to ensure all of our operations are performed to the highest standard, in line with the latest regulations.

“The Environment Agency is committed to a culture of safety and compliance, so it is vital that we stay at the forefront of the dynamic drone industry with a thorough understanding of risk management, policy development processes, techniques, and associated governance activities.

“By taking the course material and embedding these values into our operations and continuing to review our procedures, we can ensure that our pilots engage best practice principles and are operationally compliant, while providing value for money and effectiveness.”

Drones A Key Tool For Environment Agency

Drones have become a key tool for the Environment Agency, assisting its regulatory, compliance and enforcement work.


Drones have become a key tool for the Environment Agency.


Key benefits include:

  • Drones provide visuals of areas that officers would not otherwise be able to see safely, reducing the health and safety risk.
  • Drone footage strengthens court cases, allowing the Environment Agency to demonstrate the scale and impact illegal waste sites have on the environment and communities.
  • Drones are used for monitoring water flows and aiding flood management, to help protect communities.
  • Improve the Environment Agency’s incident resilience and operational capability, and collect data quicker and more cost-effectively than traditional manual methods.


The Environment Agency uses drones to monitor water flows and flooding.


During the trial period, the Environment Agency has expanded its fleet, which now includes the DJI M300 RTK and Mavic 3 Enterprise, and increased its number of pilots.

Andy said: “Drones have proved their value and the more they are used, the more we are realising how they can be utilised across our departments, from gas monitoring and water sampling through to LiDAR surveying and high-resolution visual imaging.


The Environment Agency is using DJI drones, including the M300 RTK.


“We are now evolving from a trial through to adopting a business-as-usual approach and the Level 5 course puts us in a stronger position to implement this transition and manage the many facets of a safe and effective drone programme and future-proof our UAS operations.

“It highlighted the value of a robust governance and assurance programme for all of our in-house drone activities, including record keeping, pilot assessments, currency and battery management, handling flight logs, auditing, and maintaining on-site equipment to confirm pilots are operating legally and to mitigate against the risk of incidents.”



The Level 5 course is held at The Village Hotel Newcastle in a residential-style environment, over a five-day period. The content is delivered by the heliguy™ instructors.

Andy said: “The course is really well put together and professional. The material is of a high standard and the networking opportunity that the course provides is extremely valuable, enabling the chance to meet other project leaders to talk through their models and operating procedures and share information.”

Ofqual Level 5 Drone Award 'Fills A Skill Gap'

The Level 5 Award is a Regulated Qualification: The equivalent to a foundation degree and is recognised as a professional management qualification.



As an industry-leading drone training provider and RAE (Recognised Assessment Entity), heliguy™ worked with TQUK (Training Qualifications UK) to build the syllabus. The new course is different to the former Level 5 Award for Chief Pilots, with learning outcomes more suited and tailored to UAS operations management.

Ben Shirley, heliguy™ Training Development Manager, said: “We developed the course syllabus in collaboration with TQUK to fill a skills gap, in which organisations were evolving their UAS programme into such diverse and dispersed formations that additional challenges were encountered.

“Whilst courses such as the General Visual Line of Sight Certificate course is appropriate in equipping individuals with the necessary knowledge and skill to become competent Remote Pilots, it does not address the management aspects such as governance and operational oversight factors, which are present, particularly with large-scale entities, specific to their UAS programmes.

“We opted to seek Ofqual approval of the qualification in order to raise the professional standards of the unmanned aviation sector and create a recognised career framework which is critical for any emerging industry.

“In addition, regulated qualifications also ensure a high standard of training is delivered, often more comprehensive than non-regulated qualifications and also to enable individuals to benefit from a range of funded learning schemes.”

The next Level 5 course dates are: 19-23 June 2023; 11-15 September 2023; 11-15 December 2023. Contact us for more details about the Level 5 course, or for heliguy™'s wider drone training provision

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