As fellow drone enthusiasts, we have always espoused the merits of responsible and legal drone flight. It’s very tempting to take your brand new drone out of the box and immediately think about ways to start making money from it. We suggest that you take a step back. Depending on the size of your drone or your intended use, you may have to undergo a few processes to make sure that you are operating within legal boundaries. In this article, we discuss whether or not you will need to get a license for your drone, and how this process is done.
Do I need to apply for a drone license?
A remote pilot certificate, commonly called a drone license, is required for drones that will be used for commercial purposes. Real estate tours, construction surveys, land mapping, agricultural surveillance, and professional photography all fall under commercial drone applications. If you’re thinking of selling that really nice aerial photo you shot of a beach, it would be best to apply for the drone license if you don’t want to land in hot water.
What if I’m flying just for fun?
If you’re flying strictly for recreational purposes, then you will not need to apply for a drone license. This rule also applies to when you are only flying indoors, or when you are flying a drone that weights less than 0.55 pound (many cheap toy drones fall under this category).
However, all drones above 0.55 pounds and below 55 pounds, even when flown recreationally, need to be registered with the FAA. This measure seeks to address the privacy and security issues with drones by making drone owners accountable for them. It is a pretty quick process – you only need to provide your complete name, mailing address, email address, and a $5 payment. The FAA will then provide you a unique registration number which you are supposed to mark your drones with.
You are going to need to follow a few FAA rules even when flying your drone recreationally. These include keeping your drone within line-of-sight, staying outside of a 5-mile radius from airports and air traffic control towers, and not flying over people or over populated areas. If there are rules to drone flight in your particular community, you will have to follow those, as well.
Registering your drone is also a part of the process of getting a drone license, so if you planning to fly for commercial purposes, you should go ahead and register your drone.
What happens if I don’t get a license?
The FAA imposes stiff penalties for commercial drone pilots who operate without a drone license. From the previous $1000 fine, the cash penalty has now gone up to $1,414. Depending on the situation, you may end up violating multiple regulations under Part 107, further increasing the fines that you will have to pay. The FAA does have history of implementing the law and prosecuting drone operators, so it would not be wise to think that you can fly under their radar.
How do I get a drone license?
Here is where it gets a bit involved. It can be a long and tedious process, but it’s worth it to start making money out of your drone. First, you will have to be at least 16 years of age and have a valid government-issued ID with your name, address, and signature. You must be able to speak, read, write, and understand English, and be physically and mentally sound to operate a drone.
At this point, we recommend getting your drone registered, as it is a necessary and a very easy step. Once we have all those sorted out, it’s time to move on to the first step.
1. Make an appointment to take the knowledge test
The FAA Part 107 knowledge test is being supervised by 2 companies: CATS and PSI (formerly Lasergrade). Appointments are requested and set through these 2 companies, and not with the test center itself. You can take the exam at a test center near you, as there are around 700 test centers across the United States. You need to match the test administration company to the testing center, as not all test centers are serviced by both companies.
You will have to bring along your government-issued identification to make an appointment, and you will need to pay a $150 fee.
2. Study for the test
It might be second nature to assume that the knowledge test is a breeze, much like applying for a driver’s license. Unfortunately, the test questions are far from basic. Although there are questions which can be answered by logical deductions, some questions cover specialized subjects such as US airspace classifications, flight safety and protocols, and basic cartography. The test consists of 60 multiple-choice questions, of which you need to answer 70 percent correctly to pass the exam.
We recommend taking this part seriously. Most people estimate needing 15 to 20 hours of studying for the knowledge test. For the best way to prepare for the test, you can take the 2-hour training course or read the 87-page study guide offered by FAA. Should you find the study materials from FAA too technical, there are several study guides and training courses offered online.
3. Take the test
The knowledge test consists of 60 multiple-choice (A, B, or C) questions, of which you need to answer 70 percent correctly to pass the exam. Some items may require referring to a visual aid, such as charts or maps. You are given 2 hours to complete the test. Don’t worry too much about failing the test, as you can take the test again after 14 calendar days.
4. Wait 48-72 hours for your score to be uploaded
You will find out if you passed the test after about 48 hours from the FAA’s website.
5. Apply for the Remote Pilot Certificate
If you passed the test, you can obtain your remote pilot certificate from the FAA’s online Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) system. First, make an account on the website, log in using your credentials, and apply for the certificate using the code from your successful test as proof.
6. Complete the TSA background check
Upon receiving your application, the TSA will conduct a background check on you. How long this process will take may vary depending on how much backlog the IACRA has on pending certification applications. What doe the TSA look for? Nobody really knows – an individual’s criminal record will probably be scrutinized – but the TSA promises that proper due process will be observed. This step should not take more than a few days if the TSA doesn’t run into serious issues.
7. Print the Temporary Pilot Certificate
If you pass the TSA background check, then you can print a temporary certificate while waiting for the real one to be delivered by mail. The temporary license is only valid for 120 days, during which you should have received the real license.
8. If you haven’t yet, register your drone
Don’t forget this crucial step. Having a drone license does not exclude you from needing to register your drone.
I’ve got my drone license. Now what?
Now that you have your own drone license, then by all means, start that drone photography business and use your drone to earn some big bucks. Perhaps you can be a pioneer of drone delivery services. As long as you follow the FAA rules, you can be as creative and entrepreneurial as you want.
The drone license does come with a few responsibilities, though. You are expected to conduct a pre-flight inspection on your drone every time you take it out for flight, following specific aircraft and system checks. You are required to report drone accidents that lead to injury to people or to $500 worth of property damage. You are also required to submit the drone for inspection or testing upon the FAA’s request, along with other associated documents.
Lastly, the drone license is valid only for 2 years. To retain your license, you will have to take and pass the knowledge test again.
Getting a drone license can be somewhat bothersome, but the rising popularity of drones have made it necessary for the FAA to step in to ensure the safety of both people and property. Studying for the knowledge test is actually an enriching experience, and you’re sure to learn things you never knew before in the process. As always, we advocate safe drone flight. The FAA rules are there for a reason, and it is the best interest of the drone industry that we all abide by them.