Want to Fly a Drone? Everything You Need to Know

- Mark Sheehan | MyDroneAuthority

The current Part 107 rules that drone pilots need to follow came out in 2016. The FAA made some updates in June 2018 that are included in this review of the requirements to get a drone license for commercial flying.

What Does the FAA Define as the Commercial Use of a Drone?

The FAA defines a “commercial purpose” in drone flying as any use of a drone that is done for payment including the receipt of in-kind services.

To understand the distinction, a non-commercial use of a drone would be if a person flies a drone to capture images of a resort that they visit while on vacation. If the images are captured for home movies, there is no need for the drone pilot to have a license.

A commercial use of a drone occurs, if that same person flies the same drone over the same resort to capture images for a promotional presentation of the resort and is paid for the footage. The payment may be made in cash or by in-kind services, such as receiving a room discount for doing the work. This commercial use of that drone requires a remote pilot’s certificate.

FAA Drone Registration

There is an FAA requirement to register drones that are used for either hobby or commercial flying depending on how much the drone weighs. Any drone that weighs more than 8.8 ounces – 0.55 lbs. (250 grams) must be registered with the FAA.

Register any drone with the FAA if it weighs more than 0.55 lbs and less than 55 lbs. (25 kg.) including any payload that it carries. This can easily be done online at the FAA Drone Zone. The cost for the registration is $5 (as of January 2019). The registration is good for three years. After registration, put the unique FAA registration number on your drone for identification purposes.

Any drone that weighs 55 lbs. or more needs to be registered by using a paper application and sending it to the FAA by using the information about how to file a notarized, paper application.

What is a Remote Pilot Certificate?

The FAA uses the term “Remote Pilot Certificate” as its official name for what is commonly called a commercial drone license. Any person flying a drone for commercial purposes must have a remote pilot certificate. The pilot must also pass an initial knowledge test and a recurrent test every 24 months thereafter to maintain current remote pilot status.

Which Type(s) of Pilots Need a Drone License/Certification?

There is a difference between recreational and commercial drone flying. Recreational hobby drone fliers do not need to have a remote pilot certificate. The certificate is only required for those who make money or get paid something for flying a drone.

However, the FAA rules about how to fly drones apply to both commercial and hobby flying of drones. This means that recreational drones fliers need to learn and follow the general regulations under FAA Part 107 rules that apply to all drone flying as follows:

Drone weighs less than 55 lbs. (25 kg) including any load it is carrying.

Always conduct a preflight inspection for safe operation.

The drone pilot must always have visual line-of sight of the drone and be able to see it without any visual aids, except corrective lenses.

The pilot must not fly a drone over any people, under a covered structure, or inside a covered vehicle that is stationary.

Fly only in daylight or in civil twilight (30 minutes before sunrise or after sunset) only if the drone is equipped with anti-collision lighting that is operating.

Yield the right-of-way to manned aircraft.First-person-view (FPV) flying requires another person to serve as a drone viewer to help with collision avoidance.

100 mph maximum groundspeed.400 feet above ground level is the maximum altitude or within 400 feet of a structure if flying from a structure that is above ground level.

3 miles minimum visibility.

Operate only in Class G unrestricted airspace unless Air Traffic Control permission is obtained.

Fly only one drone at a time.

No flying from a moving aircraft or a moving vehicle except over a sparsely-populated area.

No careless or reckless flying.

No carrying of hazardous materials.

No drone flying by any person who has a physical or mental condition that would interfere with the safe operation of the drone.

Do Businesses Need to Have a Remote Pilot Certificate?

Remote pilot certificates are issued to qualifying individuals, not to businesses. Any person flying a drone for any business must have an individual remote pilot certificate.

What is a Rule Part 107 Waiver?

A drone-flying business needs only to follow the rules in the state where it is located, unless it wants to use drones in ways that would violate FAA rules.

The FAA requires that a business get a waiver if any drone use would violate standard FAA rules. For example, using drones to capture footage of events by flying over crowds is prohibited unless the drone-flying business or pilot first obtains special permission to do this by applying for an FAA waiver.

Other waivers are necessary for specific types of drone flying that include:

Drone operation from a moving vehicle or aircraft (Section 107.25).

Flying a drone at night (Section 107.29).

Not having visual line-of-sight of the drone (Section 107.31).

Not having a visual observer (Section 107.33).

Operation of multiple drones at the same time (Section 107.35).

Not yielding the right-of-way (Section 107.37(a)).

Operation within certain restricted airspace (Section 107.41).

Exceeding operating limitations (Section 107.51).

Which Pilots Are Getting Their Certification?

The commercial uses of drones are rapidly expanding. Some examples of pilots include aerial photographers/videographers, police and firefighters, mining engineers, architects, construction crews, and aerial surveyors who use drones for mapping and 3D modeling.

Do Drone Racing Pilots Need a Certificate ?

The FAA does not regulate drone flying that is done indoors. A drone must be registered with the FAA if it weighs more than 8.8 ounces = 0.55 lbs (250 grams).

However, a person does not need a remote pilot certificate to race a drone indoors even if they are being paid or winning prizes.

Racing drones outside for a hobby does not require a remote pilot certificate either unless the racing is done commercially for pay or to win prizes.

If a person gets any pay or receives in-kind services, such as prizes, for flying a drone outside, this requires the drone pilot to have a remote pilot certificate.

I Already Have My Manned Pilot’s License, Do I Need a Drone License As Well?

Yes, anyone commercially flying drones outside needs to get a remote pilot certificate.