Renewing Your Part 107 Drone License

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The FAA requirements for commercial drone pilots to get a remote pilot certificate, or drone license, were released a little more than 2 years ago. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have taken the knowledge test and acquired their drone licenses. These Part 107 drone licenses only have a validity of 24 months, which means that just a few months ago people have started to get their licenses renewed.

If you’re one of the people who has a drone license that’s about to expire, and you’re wondering what the process is, then you have come to the right place. In this article, look at the FAA regulations on renewal, the process that you need to go through, and the experience of people who have already renewed their license.

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What’s the point of renewing my drone license?

Before we even jump into how to renew, let’s look at why we need to renew. After all, many people have expressed displeasure with the fact that they have to take the knowledge test again to renew their drone licenses. This measure may sound a bit overkill, especially considering that renewing a driver’s license does not require you to retake a driving test.

The FAA argues that a recurrent knowledge test is necessary because the knowledge on appropriate regulations and standards tends to erode over time. This is especially apparent in drone pilots, as they do not necessarily need to refer to these standards on a regular basis. It is also true that not all certified drone pilots exercise drone operations on such a frequent basis that they need to recall all the concepts tested in the knowledge test.

Requiring drone pilots to pass a recurrent knowledge test is the way for the FAA to impose a review of all the necessary knowledge that a drone pilot must have. It may not be agreeable to everyone, but these are the legal regulations that are currently imposed and that we need to follow.

What do I need to do to renew my drone license?

According to the original Part 107 regulations, the remote pilot certificate is valid for 2 years, and that “certificate holders must pass either a recurrent online training course OR recurrent knowledge test every two years”. There had been no elaboration on this rule and on how it was going to be implemented until May 2018, when the FAA released its revised Part 107 Airman Certification Standards (ACS) document.

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The new ACS provides helpful details on how the recurrent knowledge test will proceed. The process is very similar to getting a new license: you will book for a testing appointment in any of the more than 700 FAA-certified knowledge testing centers, pay the $150 testing fee, and take the test. Again, you will need to correctly answer 70% of the questions to pass the test.

How do I sign up for the Part 107 recurrent knowledge test?

The first step you need to take is to sign up for the knowledge test. Similar to the first time you applied, you need to book the testing date and place with CATS/PSI. You may sign up at their website or call their toll-free number 1-844-704-1487.

Administration of the recurrent knowledge test has been going on for a few months, so the people over at CATS/PSI should now be very familiar with the process. In any case, they will be more than happy to help you sign up and find a testing center location and test schedule that will work for you.

What does the Part 107 recurrent knowledge test cover?

While waiting for your test schedule, we recommend that you use the extra time to study up for the recurrent knowledge test. The FAA rulebook helpfully provides some details what the knowledge test will cover.

The recurrent test will only have 40 multiple choice questions, a significant decrease from the 60 questions of the original certification exam. Having fewer questions also means that you will only have 90 minutes to finish the test instead of the original 120 minutes. As with the original test design, the questions you will receive are still going to be randomly chosen from a pool of more than 300 questions. You will need to answer 70% of the questions correctly to pass the knowledge test.

According to the FAA, the topics that the test will include and the approximate weight of each topic is as follows:

Area of OperationTaskPercentage of Items on Test
IA. General30% – 40%
B. Operating Rules
C. Remote Pilot Certification with an sUAS rating
D. Waivers
IIA. Airspace Classification30% – 40%
B. Airspace Operational Requirements
VB. Airport Operations20% – 30%
C. Emergency Procedures
D. Aeronautical Decision-Making
F. Maintenance and Inspection Procedures

The list of topics basically looks like a trimmed down version of the list of subject areas covered by the original certification exam. Notably, the list does not include Weather and Loading, and Performance Certification Standard.

According to the people who have taken and passed the recurrent knowledge test, these are the areas that you should be brushing up on:

  1. Reading aeronautical charts – This includes identifying airspace classes, finding objects on a map given their longitude and latitude, and reading map legends and symbols.
  2. Operational rules – This includes the maximum altitude and speed your drone can go, where you can fly, when you can fly, and any other appropriate measures you can take as exceptions to the standard rules. You should also read up on documentation requirements, such as the conditions that require you to report a drone-related accident to the FAA.
  3. Airspace classification – This includes identifying which class of airspace a specific area in a map belongs to, and the protocols associated with flying drones over that airspace class.

People who have gone through the recurrent knowledge test claim that most of the questions look very similar to the ones they answered during the first round of certification. Not having questions related to weather or drone loading takes out a significant chunk of topics you need to study, as you won’t need to review how to interpret METARs or how much g-forces your drone experiences when navigating a turn while carrying a load.

How should I prepare for the recurrent knowledge test?

If you have signed up for any paid training course in the past, then you’re in a very ideal situation since you probably have lifetime access to the training material. If not, then you can probably look at any of the free online training courses made for Part 107 remote pilot certification.

We recommend you set aside at least 3 days to read up on the relevant topics. After all, you have done this before so none of these concepts should be new to you.

One more thing to not forget when you show up for the recurrent test is to bring your original remote pilot certificate. This is a requirement by the FAA, and the test proctor will likely not allow you to take the test without it. As with the original certification test, you are also required to show a photo ID before taking the recurrent test.

What happens after I pass the recurrent knowledge test?

Surprisingly, there’s very little that you need to do once you pass the test. After you receive your test results, all you need to do is keep that piece of paper with you whenever you fly your drone. There will be no new certificate or any other proof that you have renewed it.

It seems that the recurrent test is not yet being recognized by the online portal of the Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA), so there is no provision to input your new test results and apply for a new license. Perhaps this is a feature that the FAA will improve on in the future. Right now, the best course of action is to hold on to your recurrent test results.

What if I have a Part 61 license?

If you are licensed to fly a manned aircraft under the Part 61 regulations and you wish to renew your Part 107 drone license, then you can either take the Part 107 recurrent knowledge test at a certified testing center or complete an online training course on the FAA Safety team website. The online course for Part 107 renewal is called “Part 107 Unmanned Aircraft Systems (small UAS) Recurrent”. This online course is basically a shorter version of the original training course you had to complete to earn your remote pilot certificate.

Final thoughts

We have always been supportive of the need for an FAA-controlled system for traceability and accountability of commercial drone pilots. This has allowed the FAA to impose a knowledge standard with the goal of making better and more responsible drone pilots. As drone use becomes even more popular and widespread, the FAA needs to establish control to pre-empt issues on safety and privacy.

The intention behind the requirement on drone pilots to pass a recurrent knowledge test is acceptable. It is true that most drone pilots do not regularly exercise all the concepts in the knowledge test, and their level of proficiency will tend to drop over time. It is also true that a change in circumstances, such as a home relocation or buying a new drone, will  also change the aeronautical and operational concepts that are relevant to a drone pilot.

However, the certification process appears to be shorter this time around, as there is no need to log the test results on the IACRA website and for the TSA to conduct a background check. Perhaps the more streamlined process can allow the FAA to reduce the testing fees for renewal applicants. $150 seems like a drop in a bucket for people who have booming drone businesses, but not everybody is such a fortunate situation.

Improving drone technology, the increasing number of drones, and ever-growing privacy issues will all probably determine how drone-related legal regulations change in the next several years. Licensed or not, we can all do our part in maintaining the good image of the drone industry by being safe and responsible drone pilots.