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.

However, for FAA-approved pilot of other types of aircraft, they simply need to take a free online course offered by the FAA and pass the completion exam.

The details are explained in the section entitled “Remote Pilot Certificates for Already FAA-Certified Pilots” below.

What is the 333 Exemption? Do I Need One?

The FAA rule 333 is the regulation that requires a pilot to get an airworthy certification of an aircraft by having an FAA inspection of the aircraft. Commercial drone fliers avoid this requirement in one of two ways.

One way is by using a drone that is already approved for exemption on the master list maintained by the FAA for this purpose.

The other way is by applying for and getting a 333 exemption for a drone that they register with the FAA for commercial use if the drone is not on the FAA-approved master list.

Penalties for Flying a Commercial Drone Without a Remote Pilot Certificate

In 2015, the FAA fined a company in Chicago called SkyPan $1.9 million for making 65 unlicensed flights using a drone for aerial photography in controlled airspace without having Flight Traffic Control permission. The company eventually negotiated a settlement with the FAA of $200,000.

Since that time, in 2016 the FAA released its new rule Part 107 that required commercial drone pilot to be licensed. The FAA penalties are up to $27,500 for each civil violation and up to $250,000 for each criminal conviction with the possibility of jail time as well.

So far, the FAA has not enforced these penalties, preferring instead to conduct public education about the new laws instead. At the present time, in January 2019, violators get warning letters from the FAA and then must get their remote pilot certificate to avoid paying a fine.

There is no guarantee that the FAA will continue to be this lenient in the future, so getting a certificate when required is a good idea.

How to Get an Individual Remote Pilot Certificate

There are two pathways to get a remote pilot certificate. One is for pilots who are already FAA-certified and have current status to fly another type of aircraft. The other is for first-time pilots.

Both first-time drone pilots and FAA-qualified pilots of other types of aircraft must pass an initial test. After that, they take a reoccurring test to stay up-to-date with new knowledge every two years in order to maintain active status for their remote pilot certificate.

FAA-qualified pilots get to take a free knowledge course test that is on the FAA website. First-time drone pilots have to register with an FAA-authorized testing center, pay a fee ($150) and go in person to the center to take the test.

When flying a commercial drone, the pilot must always have in his or her possession a current remote pilot certificate and a certificate of passing test results that are not older than two years. These two documents must be presented to any law enforcement officer or FAA representative upon demand.

Remote Pilot Certificates for Already FAA-Certified Pilots

The requirements for this category of Existing Part 61 Certificate Holders are:

Hold a valid pilot’s certificate under FAA Rule 14 CFR Part 61.

Have successfully passed a flight review within the past 24 months.

Take the free FAA online training course called “Part 107 small Unmanned Aircraft Systems ALC-45” and pass the knowledge test exam.

Wait at least two days after completing the course and then go to IACRAto fill out Form 8110-13 and enter your knowledge-test exam ID number.

Go to an FAA-approved facility* to prove your identity in person and get your remote pilot certificate.

A temporary one is issued and then the permanent one comes in the mail after several weeks.

*For identification verification, make an appointment, and then take a government-issued photo ID with the completed Form 8710-13, proof of your current flight review, and the knowledge test completion certificate to any of these FAA-approved entities:

An FAA Flight Standards District Office

FAA-designated pilot examiner

An airman certification representative

FAA-certificated flight instructor (cannot issue temporary certificates)

First-Time Pilots

To be eligible you must be at least 16 years old, be able to read and comprehend English, and be in a good enough mental and physical condition to be able to safely fly a drone. You must pass a knowledge test.

In order to pass the test to get a remote pilot certificate for the first time, a person needs to complete three steps, which are:

Study the FAA Part 107 rules and drone-flying regulations.Take practice tests.Take and pass the official FAA written test for the remote aircraft class of the Airman Certification Standards (ACS) at an FAA-approved testing facility.

How to Study the FAA Part 107 Rules

The FAA rules that cover drone flying are called Part 107. The FAA offers a summary of the Part 107 rules that any aspiring remote pilot should study carefully. You should memorize everything in this summary because these are the most important basic rules. You should also read the full FAA Small-UAS Rules Part 107.

Click here for the sections of the rules that are covered in the test.

You may want to take the free FAA Part 107 online course or pay for a course with videos and quizzes like the one offered by Jonathan Rupprecht for around $60 to make studying the material easier.

There are 63 questions on the test. Three questions are mixed in that are for data collection and do not count in the scoring grade. You should answer all the questions because you will not be able to tell which questions are for data collection only. There is no deduction for any incorrect answers, so use your best guess for any questions that you are not certain about.

This FAA publication is an outline that lists the knowledge standards by the section of the FAA rules that are required to pass the test: Remote Pilot – Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (Certification and Recurrent Knowledge Testing) Airman Certification Standards – Updated June 2018

The FAA has the free Remote Pilot – Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Study Guide. This 79-page study guide is what test takers need to study in great detail because all of the test questions come from this guide.

The FAA also publishes a supplemental test guide that shows the kinds of aeronautical charts and diagrams that the test questions will refer to for the exam. A supplemental is included with the exam.

3d Robotics also has an excellent free study guide that is very easy to read.

3D Robotics also offers a very useful regulations cheatsheet that should be memorized.

The questions found on the test will come from five areas, which are given different weights, in terms of the number of questions, based on what the FAA considers to be the most important.

The topical areas and the approximate number of questions are:

Part I. Regulations (6 to 15 questions)Part II. Airspace and Requirements (6 to 15 questions>Part III. Weather (6 to 7 questions)Part IV. Load and Performance (5 to 6 questions)Part V. Drone Operation (25 to 30 questions)

The FAA Part 107 drone exam is not easy to pass. It is not possible to pass it without studying very seriously. Many of the questions on the exam are technical in nature. Often the questions are very tricky. Here is an example:

What is the weight of an sUAS?

A) 55 kilograms or lessB) 55 lbs. and lessC) Under 55 lbs.

To answer this question correctly you need to know that an sUAS stands for a “small unmanned aerial system.” This is a very specific category of drones. They can be registered online with the FAA. They do not require a more extensive paper application to be filed with the FAA, which is the requirement for drones weighing 55 lbs or more. Also, note that drones that weigh under 0.55 lbs. (250 grams) do not require FAA registration.

The correct answer is “C” because the small “s” category of a UAS is a designation for those under 55 lbs. A drone that weighs exactly 55 lbs. would NOT qualify, so the tricky answer of “B – 55 lbs. and less” is incorrect.

A memory aid to use is the over/under 55 rule, i. e. over 0.55 lbs. and under 55 lbs. are the sUAS that must be registered with the FAA.

Good Option: Taking Practice Tests

It is probably a good idea to take some practice tests for FAA Part 107 drone-flying exam before going to the trouble to pay the fee and then take the in-person test.

The FAA offers sample test questions.