This Guide Last Updated: April 2017
On June 21st, 2016, the FAA finalized a new regulatory framework for small unmanned aerial systems. Titled Part 107, these new regulations effectively create a new drone certification process that covers the majority of low-risk, commercial sUAS flight operations.
These new regulations were implemented on Monday, August 29th 2016.
This guide covers the basics of what it means to become a commercially certified drone pilot in the U.S. and how you can prepare for the operating provisions of Part 107.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
→ How do I become a certified drone pilot?
→ How can I prepare for the Part 107 written drone test?
→ When will the Part 107 written drone test be available to take?
→ What if I have (or am waiting for) an FAA Section 333 Exemption?
→ Do I need to be a certified drone pilot?
→ What kind of companies are getting certified?
→ Do I need to have a (manned aircraft) pilot license?
→ What if I already have a manned aircraft pilot license?
→ Do I have to pass a medical exam?
→ How much does it cost to get a drone pilot certificate?
→ How long does it take to get certified?
How do I become a certified drone pilot?
Under Part 107, which the FAA announced on June 21st, 2016 and implemented on August 29th, 2016, commercial drone operators are required to:
- Pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at one of 690 FAA-approved knowledge testing centers across the United States (this list last updated July 2016). That’s what our Part 107 training course prepares you for.
- Be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration.
- Obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate with a small UAS rating (like existing pilot airman certificates, never expires).
- Pass a recurrent aeronautical knowledge test every 24 months.
- Be at least 16 years old.
- Make available to the FAA, upon request, the small UAS for inspection or testing, and any associated documents/records required to be kept under the proposed rule.
- Report an accident to the FAA within 10 days of any operation that results in injury or property damage over $500.
- Conduct a preflight inspection, to include specific aircraft and control station systems checks, to ensure the small UAS is safe for operation.
For those who need to operate outside the flight and mission parameters of Part 107, you’ll need to gain additional permission from the FAA through a waiver process. Things like flying at night, operating beyond visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS), etc.
How can I prepare for the Part 107 written drone test?
Check out Drone Pilot Ground School.
It’s an at-home Part 107 test prep and commercial drone training course for those of you looking to become certified under Part 107.
Yes we’re biased, because we built it, but we’re really proud of the training content and wholeheartedly believe we offer the best training product (and company support) of anyone else in the drone industry.
The course includes 30+ lectures that cover a wide variety of topics, including:
- Drone Flight Operations
- National Airspace System (NAS)
- Small UAS Loading & Performance
- Drone Laws & FAA Regulations
- Weather & Micrometeorology
When will the Part 107 written drone test be available to take?
It’s live! You can take it whenever you’re ready to get certified.
Here’s what the drone pilot test looks like:
- It’s an objective, multiple-choice type test.
- There are 60 questions, with three single responses (A, B, and C) per question.
- Each test question is independent of other questions; therefore, a correct response to one does depend upon, or influence, the correct response to another.
- Some questions may require visual references, like airspace maps or charts.
- The minimum passing score is 70% (meaning, you’ll need to get at least 42 questions right).
- You’re allowed two hours to complete the test.
Here’s a breakdown of the questions, by knowledge topic:
What if I have (or am waiting for) an FAA Section 333 Exemption?
Basically, if you already have a Section 333 Exemption, you can continue to operate under its provisions throughout the 24-month licensing window. You can choose to go through Part 107 separately if you’d like, which depending on what kind of operations you’re doing, will offer much less strict provisions.
If you applied for and are still waiting for a Section 333 Exemption, then you’re one of thousands of folks in the FAA’s backlog.
Do I need to be a certified drone pilot?
If you’re just planning to fly your drone / UAV recreationally, then no. You don’t need Part 107, the Section 333 exemption or any other kind of UAV certification. You’ll just need to abide by standard safety guidelines as regulated per the FAA.
A few of those guidelines include:
- Flying in the daylight
- Flying under 400 feet
- Establishing a direct line-of-sight
- Not flying in national parks
- Not flying directly over people
- …and more
We recommend consulting Know Before You Fly for recreational sUAS guidelines.
Note: If you’re flying a drone that weighs over .55 lbs / 250g, you’ll need to register it with the FAA, even if you’re just flying recreationally. This went into effect on December 21st, 2015.
To operate commercially though, where “commercial” describes any kind of flight operation that can be tied to economic benefit, the FAA requires you to get certified.
So Part 107 explicitly regulates commercial sUAS activities.
Government entities or organizations (e.g. law enforcement agencies, public universities, state governments, local municipalities) have 2 options for flying UAS:
- Fly under the small UAS rule – follow all rules under 14 CFR Part 107, including aircraft and pilot requirements.
- Obtain a blanket public Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) – permits nationwide flights in Class G airspace at or below 400 feet, self-certification of the UAS pilot, and the option to obtain emergency COAs (e-COAs) under special circumstances.
Of course, just because you’re certified doesn’t make you a strong drone pilot. You’ll need to master basic flight proficiency. You’ll need a strong command of the sUAS landscape, your hardware, your software and what can go wrong. And of course, to earn money as a professional drone pilot, you’ll need a strong business plan.
What kind of companies are getting certified?
Chances are that if you’re reading this sentence, you’re already aware of the many amazing opportunities for commercial drone pilots. Below are a few observations from looking at the first few thousand certified pilots in the United States:
- The most common commercial application is real estate and film / cinematography.
- California and Florida are the two states with the most number of certified drone pilots.
- A majority of certification holders indicate that the pilot is operating a DJI product.
- Other commercial applications include precision agriculture and the inspection/monitoring of utility and energy infrastructure.
Do I need to have a (manned aircraft) pilot license?
We get asked this one a lot!
- Under a traditional Section 333 Exemption, yes.
- Under Part 107, no.
Let’s dive into this a bit.
The company (or individual running the company) that holds a Section 333 Exemption does not need to be a licensed pilot, but the person actually flying the drone/UAV must be. This is called the “pilot-in-command.”
The licensed pilot can be either a company employee or independent contractor, as long as he or she satisfies the qualifications articulated in the Section 333 Exemption guidelines.
So what does being a licensed pilot mean?
It means you either have, at minimum, a sport or recreational pilot license. You do not need to have a private pilot’s license, but if you already do, that satisfies the requirement. You could also have an airline transport or commercial license, but for most of you that doesn’t apply unless you already have a career in aviation.
Here’s what the FAA says on their website:
Under this grant of exemption, a PIC must hold either an airline transport, commercial, private, recreational, or sport pilot certificate. The PIC must also hold a current FAA airman medical certificate or a valid U.S. driver’s license issued by a state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, a territory, a possession, or the Federal government. The PIC must also meet the flight review requirements specified in 14 CFR § 61.56 in an aircraft in which the PIC is rated on his or her pilot certificate.
Under Part 107, a traditional Part 61 (manned aircraft) pilot license is not required.
What if I already have a manned aircraft pilot license?
Great question. If you:
- Hold a pilot certificate issued under 14 CFR part 61; and
- Have completed a flight review within the previous 24 months,
Then you don’t need to go through our training course. You can complete a (free) online training course called “Part 107 small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) ALC-451” available on the FAA FAASTeam website.
You’d then complete FAA Form 8710-13 (FAA Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application for a remote pilot certificate), validate your applicant identity, and make an in-person appointment with your local FSDO, an FAA-designated pilot examiner (DPE), an airman certification representative (ACR), or an FAA-certificated flight instructor (CFI) to sign your form.
Do I have to pass a medical exam?
No, you do not. There is no medical exam required to operate a drone under a Section 333 Exemption or Part 107. A government issued I.D like a driver’s license or Passport can substitute for a medical flight physical.
How much does it cost to get a drone pilot certificate?
The FAA only charges $5 to get a commercial sUAS registration number.
Under Part 107, drone pilots are required to pass an FAA Aeronautical Knowledge exam. Traditionally, this kind of test has been administered through one of two companies, Computer Assisted Testing Service (CATS), and PSI / LaserGrade Computer Testing. As of July 2016, there are 690 FAA-approved knowledge testing centers across the United States.
The cost to take the aeronautical knowledge exam is $150 at a licensed testing center.
Other than that, there are no hard costs absolutely required to gain your drone pilot certificate from the FAA. Of course, if you’re building a drone business, you may want to look into drone liability insurance, where an annual policy might run you $800-$1000/year.
How long does it take to get certified?
After you pass your Aeronautical Knowledge Exam, you’ll need to wait up to 48 hours to apply for your Remote Pilot Certificate using the FAA’s online IACRA system. I shot a short video of my experience doing that here. Pretty straightforward.
After you send in your application, you’ll go through automatic TSA security vetting, and then assuming you pass that, you’ll receive a temporary electronic Remote Pilot Certificate.
The FAA anticipates that, while it may take the FAA 6 to 8 weeks to issue a permanent Remote Pilot Certificate via snail mail, a temporary remote pilot certificate can be issued in about 10 business days. The temporary Remote Pilot Certificate will allow the certificate holder to exercise all the privileges of the certificate, thus significantly reducing the waiting period prior to being able to operate as a remote pilot in command under part 107.