Here is a step-by-step guide to the basics of obtaining an FAA 107 commercial drone license.
So—you’re stepping into the aerial arena, taking command of your first unmanned aerial vehicle (drone). Given their usefulness in a wide range of geospatial work, that’s absolutely a smart decision. But you know it’s not as easy as grabbing one off the shelf and hurling it into the sky. You need a drone license.
Depending on where you are in the world, drone licensing (and what you can legally do with a drone, where, and when) varies. Check previous xyHt articles on drone law in the UK and Kenya, for example.
If you’re in the U.S., this one’s for you. And you, and you … because, according to the Department of Transportation, drone registrations surpassed one million in 2018.
What Is the FAA 107 Commercial Drone License?
The FAA 107 commercial drone license, also known as Part 107, is a requirement for piloting drones for work or business. If you want to make a profit from using your drone, an FAA 107 commercial drone license is a must.
Note: the online process is for regular craft weighing under 55 pounds. If your drone is heavier, there is a paper process outlined online (see the end of this article for online resources).
How long does certification take?
This may vary, depending on processing and whether or not you pass your test the first time. Expect to wait up to eight weeks for your permanent certificate. You can operate your drone with a temporary certificate.
If I sell aerial photos taken from my drone, do I need a commercial license?
Yes. If you profit from imagery taken from your drone, you need a commercial license. A commercial drone license will not only make you a legal drone pilot, but also a safe and smart one.
If I use drone footage in my monetized YouTube videos, do I need a commercial license?
Yes! See above.
Do I need to pass a medical exam before receiving my commercial license?
No. You, the pilot, are responsible for your ability to command your drone.
How do I renew my certificate?
You can take a recurrent knowledge test within two years of your initial test. Contact your testing facility for more information. Every state has different regulations regarding drone use.
Before you get a commercial license, familiarize yourself with state drone regulations; the FAA online identification tool may be helpful.
FAA 107 Requirements
Here are some requirements to consider before choosing an FAA 107. You must:
• be at least 16 years old,
• be physically and mentally able to fly a drone,
• be able to take the tests in both written and spoken English,
• provide proper documentation or have it available upon request,
•conduct preflight inspections ensuring your drone is safe for operation,
•report any incidents resulting in injury or property damage (over $500) to the FAA, and
• pass the FAA’s knowledge test, retesting every two years.
Waivers: Some operations are not covered by commercial licenses. For a complete list of examples subject to waiver, contact the FAA directly (866-835-5322). Common examples of where you may need a waiver include:
•from a moving vehicle,
•concurrently with an/other small UAS, and
•in certain airspace.
Prepping for The FAA Aeronautical Knowledge Test
You’re more likely to pass the first time if you prepare. Lifehacks aside, you want to understand all the information to the best of your ability—not just enough to pass. If you memorize the minimum knowledge necessary, you’re likely to encounter issues you won’t know how to resolve.
Courses: A variety of online and in-person drone pilot courses are available. Think of these as the “driver’s ed” of the drone world. Price and length will vary, but if you’re more of a visual or hands-on learner you‘ll likely benefit from an in-person course. If you live in an area where in-person drone courses are scarce, e-learning’s a great option.
Look for certified instructors and programs designed to help you pass the FAA Knowledge Test. (Use that as your search term.) Checking reviews or asking around can you help decide which program is for you.
Look for courses that offer a practice test as part of the course curriculum. Recommended is kingschools.com; training is solid and they’re the go-to school for manned aviation ground training.
The Official FAA Handbook: An additional study option is purchasing or downloading the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge.
Taking The Test
The U.S. boasts over 600 testing centers. Plan ahead when scheduling your test (we recommend at least a week before) as drone licenses are a hot ticket, and don’t forget your government-issued photo ID. Testing costs around $150, but contact your local center or full details. Among other topics on the test, you can expect:
•regulations regarding drones,
•weather & drone performance, emergency & radio communication procedures,
•decision-making & judgement, and
•airport operations. The knowledge test is 60 multiple-choice questions; each is unrelated to the last. Keep in mind:
•Your test will be different from practice tests and tests taken by others.
•Questions related to maps or charts are possible.
•To pass, you need 70% correct within two hours.
Your Remote Pilot Certificate
You passed! Now you need your remote pilot certificate (FAA Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application). Follow these steps:
•Register using the FAA IACRA system.
•Log back in.
• Choose an application for the certificate you’re after.
•Follow all application prompts.
•Enter your 17-digit Knowledge Test Exam ID (keep in mind that it may take up to 48 hours from your test date for the system to be updated).
•Using an electronic signature, sign your application and submit.
The TSA will run a security background check. Your passing will be confirmed by email, with instructions for printing a temporary copy of your certificate.
Your permanent certificate will soon arrive by mail. Always have your certificate available when operating your drone.
Final step: register your drone with the FAA. Registration costs $5 and is valid for three years. Visit dronezone.faa.gov, selecting “Fly sUAS under Part 107.” And don’t forget to mark your drone with your number in case of loss or theft.