Barnsley businessman goes from flying helicopters to training drone pilots

Jim Ixer, Managing Director of Drone Pilot Academy, left university and spent 17 years in the Royal Air Force as air crew on helicopters. When the time came to leave the RAF, he began thinking about working for himself. Then, during resettlement training, he met someone using drones for wedding photography.

The meeting prompted Jim to start researching the drone industry in more depth. He realised how much commercial potential there was in the sector and ordered a drone. But when he began testing it out, he soon realised it had a fault. Rather than send it back to China, he began searching online to work out how to solve the problem himself.

It was during this research, that Jim discovered he needed to do a training course before using drones commercially.

“I was lucky that the RAF paid for the majority of the course through my resettlement training. I expected to learn how to fly drones and get the most out of them. But the course ended up being three days of theory, much of which I already knew from my air force days.”

Jim Ixer, Managing Director at The Drone Pilot Academy

Jim came away deciding to set up his own academy. His plan was to deliver courses which covered both theoretical and practical skills. But, before he could get Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) approval, he needed 12 months’ operating experience first.

So, in 2014, Jim set up Helishots offering aerial photography, videography, and surveying. Enterprising Barnsley supported him with both advice and financial support for a website.

“When I first started Helishots, I had a mortgage to pay and didn’t know where the money was going to come from. I went to networking events and on social media to try and grow the business. I ended up doing lots of drone survey work. This included mapping huge quarries to help with volumetric studies, and roof inspections on high rise buildings.”

Drone surveys can save companies huge amounts of time and money

While running Helishots, Jim helped save a quarry company a quarter of a million pounds. A drone survey identified a change in angle on the haul road out of the quarry. This meant dumper trucks had to change gear part way up, increasing wear on the transmission, and the plant leasing company wanted to increase their annual bill. But the quarry company was able to change the angle of the haul road and prevent the increase.

With a year’s worth of experience under his belt, Jim went back to the CAA in 2015. He completed their assessment to become an accredited training academy. And his company, Drone Pilot Academy, is now one of the longest standing in the sector.

Jim tends to use his old network of colleagues to find course instructors. It means that with an aviation background, they can cover the course topics in-depth.

“Our main business is now training, although we do provide drone sales too. During courses, our trainers will add value with business tips and advice. If someone has an idea, we’ll talk about its feasibility and give practical insights. Course attendees can also join our membership to stay up to date with important changes after the training.”

Ultrafast broadband at The Business Village was a critical factor

During 2022, Drone Pilot Academy moved into The Business Village in Barnsley. The company is now located in the newest building.

Jim says it was important to be in an upmarket environment which reflected the business.

“Our business model means we run courses in hotels around the UK. But we also wanted a spacious, open plan office where people can visit for meetings. Being in The Business Village means we can either book meeting rooms or meet people for lunch in The Bistro.”

With the amount of data transferred around the UK, high speed internet was also a critical factor. So, the ultrafast broadband at The Business Village was a huge selling point. The location is also perfect, with free parking and easy access to the M1 for travel around the UK.

But the team running The Business Village are also a great benefit and Jim is keen to show his appreciation.

“The management team are very proactive. They’ll often share relevant opportunities such as potential grant support. We also know that we can expand here as we grow. If we need more office space, we can move within The Business Village without too much hassle.”

Whilst the head office is in Barnsley, training locations are chosen for the best access. Running down the spine of the UK, they cover Milton Keynes, Barnsley, and Motherwell. But courses also take place in Northern Ireland and a new venue was recently added in Bristol. This gives customers in Wales and the South West somewhere closer to travel.

“My ambition for the future of Drone Pilot Academy is more of the same and to increase sales. We’re also considering expanding our sales team and bringing marketing in-house. Our online drone sales haven’t been a big focus to date, so this will be something we’ll expand in the coming years.”

Get in touch with Drone Pilot Academy:


Phone:  01226 785784