WHAT IT TAKES TO FLY THEM
Updated: Jul 21
In June 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) first established the requirement for commercial drone pilots to obtain a remote pilot certificate, concurrently with the issuance of Part 107 rules. The Part 107 rules were the first time a regulatory framework had been created in the US for commercial drone operations. During this blog, we'll review current regulations as well as training requirements for drone pilots.
There a number of factors which have led to the growing use of drones: they're relatively easy to fly, inexpensive compared to other rc model craft, as well as gaining increased market and media attention. Before the Part 107 rules came into effect, drone pilots who wanted to fly their Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) had to obtain a 333 Exemption from the FAA. The process of receiving an exemption to fly a UAV for work purposes was both tedious and cumbersome. The FAA often took up to four months to process 333 Exemption requests, requiring a licensed pilot be operating the drone, a limiting factor. Each commercial drone flight also required a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM), a monthly report to the FAA, in addition to the drone having a registered n-number, similar to general aviation planes. Part 107 rules have streamlined the certification process for commercial drone pilots, as well as forming the basis of the commercial drone industry of today.
Before we delve into the FAA requirements for a drone pilot certificate, we must note the categories of drone pilots. If your drone is flown for work or business activities, then you're considered a commercial drone pilot. The key test is whether the drone operator was compensated for his/her services in the form of money or an exchange of goods and services. Commercial drone pilots fall under the FAA Part 107 rules. However, if you fly your drone for fun, you're considered a recreational drone pilot. Recreational drone pilots fly under the FAA's model aircraft rules. The FAA has stated they may require recreational drone operators to pass a knowledge test in the near future, similar to the one required for commercial drone pilots to receive the Remote Pilot Airman Certificate. Current FAA requirements to receive the Remote Pilot Airman Certificate are: pass the Aeronautical Knowledge Test, conducted by the FAA at about 700 testing sites across the United States, apply for and obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate with a small UAV rating, pass a background check by the Transportation Security Administration, pass a recurrent Aeronautical Knowledge Test every 24 months, be at least 16 years old, make available to the FAA, upon request, the small UAV for inspection or testing, and any associated documents/records required by the Part 107 rules, report an accident to the FAA within ten days of any operation that results in injury or property damage over $500, and conduct a preflight inspection, to include specific aircraft and control station checks, to ensure the small UAV is safe for operation, adhere to the Part 107 rules when operating a drone for work.
Preparing for the FAA Part 107 Knowledge Test can be both difficult and time consuming. In order to pass, a remote pilot candidate must answer 60 questions within 120 minutes and get 42 (70%) out of the sixty correct. To even be eligible to take the Knowledge Test, each applicant must meet three criteria specified by the FAA: the applicant must be at least sixteen years old, be able to read, write, speak and understand English, and be physically and mentally fit to fly a drone. The candidate need not present a medical certificate as proof, but rather conduct a self-assessment. The next step is to obtain an FAA Tracking Number before taking the test. Applicants can get one quickly by signing up for an account on the IACRA website. Your unique FTN will serve as your identifier for all aviation activities regulated by the FAA. Once you've satisfied the preliminary requirements and have received your unique FTN, you are ready to apply for the Knowledge Test. The candidate files through the Computer Assisted Training Service, Inc. a company that administers the test for the FAA. The Knowledge Test must be taken on location, so the applicant must register at one of the FAA's 700 testing sites all over the United States. Once you've picked a testing center, confirm their schedule of operation and make the appointment. You may have to provide personal details, the FTN assigned to you and pay the $160 testing fee.
The test questions are selected randomly from a much larger pool of questions, ensuring each set is unique. Due to the nature of the topics, as well as the randomness of the questions, a minimum of two weeks study time is necessary in order to learn the material. The test, in essence, covers five topics to include aircraft operations, airspace and requirements, regulations, weather, loading and performance. There are a number of online resources, as well as a study guide published by FAA to aid in preparing for the test. There are also YouTube videos and podcasts, which provide a thorough review for the test. PilotInstitute offers a well organized set of materials in addition to a 12 hour video covering all aspects of the test with more than 250 sample questions. The student only need pay a one-time entry fee to access the program. One might ask, with all of this study what kind of pay does a commercial drone pilot receive? The good news is commercial drone piloting is a very lucrative field, with a number of operators earning as much as $200 per hour in such categories as real estate, construction and professional filming.