Commercial drone flying is becoming a rising industry. The United States alone has approximately 441,709 registered commercial drone pilots. To regulate this large group of drone pilots, the FAA released Small Unmanned Aircraft Rules, popularly known as Part 107, in 2016. Part 107 is basically a set of rules for commercial drone pilots. The Part 107 certification allows drone pilots to legally fly a drone for commercial purposes. Let’s break down the process of obtaining a drone pilot license.
FAA regulations under Part 107
If you intend to fly your drone commercially, it is crucial to be well versed with the important regulations that fall under Part 107:
- The drone should weigh below 55 pounds (25kg)
- Drones must always be flown within VLOS or a visual observer.
- Drones must never operate above any person directly under any circumstance.
- Drone Operations can be conducted at night only if the pilot has passed the initial knowledge test. The drone must only be flown with adequate anti-collision lighting.
- Drone operations must never impede the path of manned aircraft.
- The maximum speed of a drone: 100 mph (87 knots)
- The maximum altitude above ground level (AGL): 400 feet.
- The minimum weather visibility from a control station must be 3 miles. (This means that prominent objects as seen from a control station must be clearly visible from a distance of 3 miles)
- Operations in other classes of airspace apart from Class G need permission from the ATC through the LAANC system.
- No drone operations must be conducted from a moving vehicle unless the area is sparsely populated.
- Operations must be carefully handled and the drone should not carry any hazardous materials.
- The remote pilot must conduct all pre-flight checks.
- An external payload is allowed only if the package is securely attached and does not hinder flight capabilities (The cargo and drone, together, must weigh below 55 pounds)
These are some of the most prominent restrictions imposed on commercial drone pilots. If your drone operation abides by all these restrictions, the drone can be flown legally. However, if under any circumstance, one or more restrictions do not comply with the drone operation, you can request a waiver certificate for that restriction. Most restrictions mentioned under Part 107 are waivable. Check the complete list of summarized restrictions here.
These regulations must be strictly adhered to unless you’ve obtained a waiver for it. The FAA levies heavy penalties that go up to $27,500 for civil and/or $250,000 for criminal penalties.
How to obtain your drone license?
Also known as the FAA Part 107 certificate, Remote Pilote License, or more commonly as ‘drone license’. It can be obtained by passing a test at one of the FAA-approved aeronautical knowledge testing centers. There are about 700 authorized testing centers in the US. The remote pilot certificate is valid only for 2 years and the pilot must retake the test to renew his/her license. Find your nearest FAA-approved test center using this tool. Note: Due to COVID-19 test centers may be closed.
There are 3 main eligibility criteria for obtaining the remote pilot certificate:
- The drone pilot must be 16 years or older
- Must be able to read, write and speak English
- Must be of sound mental and physical health to fly a drone
Process of application
If you are eligible to take the test, follow along with this 6 step process given below:
- Getting an FTN: In order to select a testing location and schedule a test online, you require an FTN (FAA Tracking Number). To obtain the FTN, head over to the Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) system. Register/create your profile on IACRA. On successful registration, your FTN will be displayed on the screen and will also be emailed to you. Here is a registration guide for IACRA.
- Scheduling the initial test: Navigate to the FAA Airman Knowledge Testing portal on the PSI website. On scrolling down, you will find an option to create an account. Using your FTN number, create an account, select a testing center, and schedule your initial test. Due to COVID-19, the tests are available only for online scheduling. The cost of taking the Airman Knowledge Test at an FAA-approved center is $175.
- Passing the test: The knowledge test consists of objective, multiple-choice questions. There are 60 questions for new applicants and it is mandatory to answer 42 correctly to pass the exam. The test must be undertaken within a duration of 2 hours. For applicants who’re writing the test for renewal are presented with only 40 questions. On completion of the test, your results are instantly displayed. To better perform in this test, you can undertake a Part 107 test preparation course from one of these drone pilot training schools.
- Applying for the remote pilot certificate: After passing the initial test and being screened by the TSA, you will have to wait up to 48 hours before you can apply for a remote pilot certificate. The application is carried out through the IACRA system.
- Log in with your username and password.
- Click on “Start New Application” and 1) Application Type “Pilot”, 2) Certifications “Remote Pilot”, 3) Other Path Information, 4) Start Application
- Follow along and select a knowledge test based on your FTN. If prompted enter your 17-digit Knowledge Test ID. However, IACRA, in a recent update eliminated the need for entering the 17-digit ID.
- Sign the application electronically and submit it for further processing.
- Confirmation: Following the submission of the application, your profile is automatically forwarded to the TSA (Transport Security Administration) for vetting/screening. As soon as you clear the vetting, a confirmation email will be sent to you with instructions on how to print the temporary copy of your remote pilot certificate.
- Remote Pilot License: It takes anywhere from 6-8 weeks for the permanent remote pilot license/certificate to arrive at your postal address. Once received, it is imperative that you carry your drone license while performing a drone operation.
The Airman Knowledge Test can be challenging for many, therefore it is advised to prepare for it priorly. One can use free online resources and read through topics like UAS regulations, Airspace Classes, Radio Communication, etc. Another option could be to enroll in a test preparation course. Here is an insight into what kind of questions can be asked in the test.