Several years ago owning a drone was considered very rare. They were used by the military and a few people had them for commercial drone pilot jobs, however they were expensive and it was hard to get a license.
These days it’s quite a different story and a lot of people own different kinds of drones. Most of them use the drones as a hobby and personal enjoyment and they don’t need a license, however everyone else has to go through the process of getting a drone license.
Keep reading to find out how to get a drone license, how to become an FAA certified drone pilot and what kind of drone classes you need to take in order to become a successful drone pilot.
1. Do I need a license to fly a drone?
The answer to this question is both yes and no. The correct term is a remote pilot license and if you are planning to use your drone for commercial operations or if you fly it for a government agency then you do need a license. Here are some of the requirements so you can make sure if you need a license and what kind of UAV license you need exactly.
- Flying drones for commercial use
You are going to need a license if you fly your drone for:
- No recreational reason – even if you don’t get a financial compensation for flying your drone. These kind of operations obligate you to get a FAA remote pilot certificate.
To obtain the above mentioned certificate you need to:
- Be at least 16 years old
- Be able to speak, write, read and understand the English language (exceptions are made only for medical reasons, like hearing impairments and etc.)
- Have physical and mental abilities to be able to operate a small UAV safely
- Visit an FAA – approved testing center where you will pass the initial aeronautical knowledge exam
- Flying drones for a government agency
You are going to need a drone pilot certification if you fly your drone for any kind of government agency like:
- Local government agencies
- Local government agencies
- Federal government agencies
- Public utilities
Flying a drone under each of these agencies will have different regulations set in place by the FAA. They have special rules for the people that get employed to fly a drone for the government.
The agencies mentioned above need to go to the FAA and get a Certificate of Waiver (COA) that will specifically outline all the conditions that have to be met in order to fly a drone. This includes getting a drone pilot certification.
The rules are set in place for everyone that is connected to government entities. Whether they are contractors or employees. If you have a drone that is over .55lbs it has to be registered.
- Flying a drone without a license
There are certain cases where a license to fly drone is not needed and it depends on the way you use the drone. A remote pilot license is not needed if you purchase and use your drone for:
- Personal satisfaction
You don’t need to be an FAA certified drone pilot if you fly your drone for the above mentioned things. There is a special rule for model aircrafts that states: if you use the UAS as a hobby (a pursuit outside the regular occupation for a person, and for relaxation) then the FAA deems you eligible to fly the drone without a commercial drone pilot license.
The only thing that you will still have to do is register your drone. On December 12, 2017 the president signed a law that makes drone registration mandatory for all drones that weigh between 0.55 and 55 pounds.
2. Getting commercial drone pilot jobs
After being such a hit in the military, drones or as they call them UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) actively moved towards commercial use. Right now they are appearing in all kinds of industries, like real estate, advertising and even film making.
Companies like google and amazon are testing for a way to deliver their packages by using a drone, however they need to wait on federal rules for commercial drone delivery as they are still not in place.
The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, estimated that more than 100,000 new jobs for unmanned aircrafts will appear on the market by 2025. The increased need for drone flying jobs increased the global market for commercial applications for the drone technology drastically. Analysts at PricewaterhouseCoopers had a prediction that this market could reach as much as $127 million by 2020.
This massive demand for civilian drone pilot jobs led to an increased need for people who actually know how to operate drones properly. Because of this, training programs started appearing at many universities all across the country. You can also find a drone pilot school when you can learn how to handle a drone properly.
The tuition for these university programs is usually between $3,500 and $4,000, and the great thing is that students don’t need a college degree or any past drone experience. These drone classes can be visited by pretty much anyone, even people who seek knowledge to fly a drone for the military or some government agency.
In most schools the process for getting a drone pilot certification has three steps. The first step is watching videos that will help you learn more about drones and how they work. You will learn about, weather conditions, how the drones work, airspace limitations and much more.
After that you are sent to a simulator that is connected to your computer. The simulator works exactly like the real thing, it even has a controller which is exactly like the drone controller. When you pass the simulator you go over to the third step which is hands-on training with an instructor.
However getting this certification is just the first step of becoming a drone pilot. You still need to get a commercial drone pilot license. It’s called the FAA 107 and most of these schools that offer UAV programs have separate classes that will help you prepare for the 107 test.
Keep reading to find how to get a drone license and a step-by-step guide for the FAA 107 rules for commercial drone pilots.
3. Becoming a certified drone pilot
The FAA had some rules and regulations when it comes to flying drones, however once the number of people who want a UAV license grew immensely they had to put in place a new regulatory framework for these drones.
The new regulations are titled Part 107 and they were implemented on Monday, August 29th 2016. Under Part 107, the FAA requires commercial drone owners to:
- Pass a knowledge test that can be taken at more than 700 testing centers across the whole country that are FAA – approved. You can take a training course at any drone pilot school that will prepare you for this test.
- Be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration.
- Get a remote drone pilot certification that has a small UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) rating (this is a certificate very similar to existing pilot airman certificates and the good thing is that they never expire).
- Pass an additional aeronautical knowledge test every two years
- Be above 16 years old.
- Report any accident to the FAA within 10 days if the accident caused injury or property damage over $500.
- Make available a small UAS for inspection for the FAA. Additionally all associated documents for the drone need to be available and kept at all times.
- Undergo a preflight inspection. The FAA has to inspect your UAS and make specific aircraft and control station systems check to make sure the UAS is ready and safe for operation.
- Preparing and taking the Part 107 written drone test
Many schools that offer drone classes will also have a special training program for the Part 107 written test. Usually it’s a course that has around 30 lectures that will help you learn all the information needed to pass the test. Among the many topics these are the most important ones:
- National Airspace System
- UAS Loading and Performance
- FAA Regulations and other drone related laws
- Weather Conditions
- Drone Flight Operations
- The FAA Aeronautical knowledge drone test
The FAA required aeronautical test or as it is called the AKT can be taken at around 700 FAA – approved testing facilities all around the country. In most cases you need to schedule about a week in advance so you can take the test. The test looks something like this:
- Multiple – choice test.
- It has 60 question and each have three (A, B and C) options with one correct answer.
- All questions are independent and not correlated between each other.
- Some of the questions will have visual references, like charts or airspace maps.
- In order to pass you will need a score of 70%. This means that at least 42 questions out of the 60 need to be correct.
- The test lasts for 2 hours.
The test is divided in 5 categories and they are:
- Airspace and Requirements
4. Do I have to possess an FAA remote pilot certificate?
If you plan to fly your UAV only recreationally then no, you don’t need a license. The only thing you have to do is follow the safety rules and regulations put in place by the FAA. These regulations require you to:
- Fly your drone only in daylight;
- Fly under 400 feet;
- Have a direct line of sight with your drone at all times;
- Fly your drone only on places where people are not present (you mustn’t fly your UAV over people’s heads) and more.
However for any commercial use you need to own a remote pilot license. Commercially means that any flight operation that will give you economic benefit has to be regulated by an FAA regulated UAV license.
Just make sure that you need an FAA UAS registration for your drone if it weighs over 0.55 pounds even if you plan to use it only for recreational purposes. Also, even if you don’t need to be an FAA certified drone pilot, it doesn’t mean that you are a good drone pilot.
To master the basics of drone flight it’s a good idea to take some drone classes. It will help you get much better and avoid any potential safety issues and damages to your drone.
5. What about people who already have a manned aircraft pilot license?
If you hold a pilot certificate that was issued under 14 CFR part 61 and you have also completed a flight review in the last two years then you don’t need to go through a training course. However, you still have to take some steps to get your license to fly drone.
First you need to complete a free online training course located on the FAA website, called Part 106 sUAS ALC – 451. Then you just need to complete an Airman certificate called the FAA Form 8710 – 13, validate your identity and make appointments with certain people. You need to meet with the local FSDO, a pilot examiner who is designated by the FAA and an airman representative or an FAA – approved flight instructor who can sign your form.
6. How much will this cost me and when will I get my FAA remote pilot certificate?
To get a commercial sUAS registration number you only need to pay $5. The FAA aeronautical knowledge exam that must be taken will cost you about $150 at any licensed training center. That’s about it when it comes to costs, not counting the costs that we mentioned above about the drone classes.
When you pass the knowledge exam it usually takes about 48 hours to apply for your commercial drone pilot license and it is done through the FAA’s ACRA system. You can find it online and it’s very easy to handle.
After that is done it can usually take up to 8 weeks to receive a permanent remote pilot license. However, the FAA are ready for that and while you wait they can issue a temporary remote UAV license. With it you can take advantage of all the privileges that the certificate offers, while you wait for your permanent license.