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FAA Shares More Information on New Knowledge Test for Recreational Drone Pilots

BY Zacc Dukowitz
31 October 2019

Scared of tests?

Don’t be, says the FAA. At least not when it comes to the knowledge test currently in the works for recreational drone pilots.

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In a recent meeting of the Drone Advisory Committee (DAC) Jay Merkle, the Executive Director of the FAA’s UAS Integration Office, said that the new test should be fun and presented in an enjoyable format.

The test should be practical and easy, and material should be provided in a user-friendly rather than prescriptive format.

– Jay Merkle, Executive Director of the FAA’s UAS Integration Office

In fact, even the word test is something of a misnomer.

Based on Merkle’s comments, it sounds like the test will be more of an opportunity to educate recreational drone pilots about basic safety considerations for operating a drone, not a quiz on knowledge that must be learned and memorized ahead of time.

[Read our interview with Michael Chasen, CEO of PrecisionHawk and Chair of the DAC]

Recreational Knowledge Test Background

In case you haven’t heard, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 included some big changes to drone laws in the U.S., including a new requirement that recreational drone pilots take a knowledge test in order to be able to fly.

Here are the changes the Act included for hobbyists:

  • The Act repealed the Special Rule for Model Aircraft (also called Section 336) and stipulated that recreational drone pilots would now be subject to FAA regulations similar to those in place for commercial drone pilots
  • The Act included qualifications for community-based organizations (CBO) that support recreational aircraft activities (basically a requirement to clearly define what a CBO is)
  • The Act included a new requirement for hobbyists to take a knowledge test before flying a drone

The repeal of Section 336 has already had several consequences for hobbyist drone pilots, including the requirement to get a waiver or LAANC approval before flying in controlled airspace and the requirement to register each drone a pilot owns.

Now, as the FAA makes progress toward finalizing the recreational knowledge test, it looks like the test requirement may soon be put into place as well.

[Want to learn more about hobbyist drone rules? Read our interview with Tyler Dobbs, Government Affairs Director at the AMA.]

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What We Know About the New Recreational Knowledge Test

Here is everything we currently know about the new knowledge test for recreational drone pilots:

  • The test will contain a “narrative style training and testing module”—that is, it will be more of an interactive learning experience than a strict test of knowledge
  • The test will be offered through “public-private partnerships” (unlike the Part 107 test for commercial drone pilots), which means that it will most likely be available online and / or through partner apps
  • The test “must be administered electronically by the FAA, community-based organizations, or other persons designated by the FAA”
  • The work to draft content and questions for the test is 95% complete
  • Some kind of documentation will be provided to recreational drone pilots who have passed the knowledge test to be shown to FAA representatives or local law enforcement (presumably this will be a certificate, as it is with the Part 107 test)
  • The above documentation can be requested by FAA representatives of local law enforcement, which means that recreational drone pilots will have to keep it on them when flying

Although the FAA has clearly made progress, there are still several aspects of the test that need to be ironed out, including:

  • When it will be finalized and made mandatory for recreational drone pilots
  • Whether there will be a minimum age requirement
  • How testing fees will be determined
  • How data will be collected and made available
  • The specific questions that will be on the test
  • Whether the test will have a recurrent element, as the Part 107 test does (the Part 107 test must be retaken every two years)


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Public-Private Collaboration

The process the FAA has followed for creating the new knowledge test has included outreach to private companies seeking feedback, advice, and potential collaboration for administering the test.

The FAA formalized the collection of this feedback in a Request for Information (RFI) they released last month, in which they announced they were seeking input from private stakeholders in the drone industry.

The FAA is looking for entities who want to become testing designees, who will administer the training and testing to the widest audience possible, and who will develop a standard electronic record that will be issued to the potential operator upon completion of the test.

The FAA

The FAA received nearly 40 RFI submissions and it has been working to include information from these responses into their planning for the test. The information companies shared with the FAA included input not just on possible questions or information to cover in the test, but also on how to offer it, testing fees, and other related areas.

What do you think about the new knowledge test requirement for recreational drone pilots? Share your thoughts in this thread on the UAV Coach community forum.

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