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.
→ 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?
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.
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:
The FAA Aeronautical Knowledge Test (AKT) is administered on a rolling basis at roughly 700 testing facilities all over the U.S. I usually tell our students to schedule the test at least a week ahead of when you need to take it. Most of the testing centers are relatively small, and while demand isn’t overwhelming, it’s the kind of thing you need to schedule ahead of time.
Here’s what the drone pilot test looks like:
Here’s a breakdown of the questions, by knowledge topic:
When you’re ready to take your test, here’s how you can schedule it.
Both companies administer the test, but not at all of the locations, so you’ll need to match your preferred location with the right company, then either visit the website of that company or call them to book. You can try calling the test center locally, but they’ll likely refer you to either CATS or LaserGrade to actually book.
So how do you match your preferred testing location?
Look at the site ID in the PDF, and if the location code is preceded with the letters ‘ABS’, contact CATS at 1-800-947-4228 to schedule your test. If the site ID is preceded with the letters ‘LAS’, contact LaserGrade at 1-800-211-2753.
The phone number adjacent to the testing facility address will put you in touch with the test proctor at the actual testing location. You can find out specific information such as how soon to arrive before testing begins, if calculators are provided, etc. This phone number is NOT used to schedule your test date.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.