Is Getting a Part 107 Drone License Worth It?

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According to the Part 107 regulations created by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT), all commercial drone pilots must secure a Part 107 remote pilot certificate, or drone license. This involves passing a 60-minute, randomly generated, multiple choice exam that touches on a huge range of topics including aeronautical charts, weather reports, radio communications, drone maintenance, and other relevant FAA regulations. Suffice to say, it is not a walk in the park.

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Who needs to apply for a drone license?

Based on FAA regulations, all commercial drone pilots are required to get a remote pilot certificate. This includes anyone who flies drones to generate a profit. A commercial drone application could include anything as simple as selling aerial photos you took using a drone, to large-scale applications such as real estate marketing, land surveys, and remote sensing. In the future, parcel delivery using drones might even be a possibility. The lines defining what a commercial drone application is are quite clearly defined at this point.

How about those just fly drones as a hobby? The good news is that you do not need to apply for a drone license. Basically, recreational drone pilots fall outside the jurisdiction of the Part 107 regulations. However, take note that having a drone that weighs more than 0.55 pounds means that you are still required to register your drone with the FAA. This is a relatively quick and painless procedure which should not give you problems?

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Why do I need to get a drone license?

As with most activities where you can earn a good amount of money, running a drone business involves a lot of red tape. Requiring a drone license means that the FAA is able to keep tabs on all commercial drone pilots. This creates a mechanism for accountability and liability in the part of drone pilots. Considering how widespread drones have become nowadays and the safety and privacy issues that are associated with drone use, we can’t really fault the FAA for that initiative.

The requirement to pass a comprehensive knowledge test before getting a drone license also creates a knowledge standard that all commercial drone pilots must be measured against. As mentioned, there are a lot of topics that the knowledge test touches on.

Will you be using all of this knowledge when you fly a drone? Probably not. The goals of the FAA, as lofty as they may sound, is to elevate the level of skill of drone pilots to something close to the level of actual aircraft pilots. Of course, this is far from reality as many drone pilots don’t even have any sort of formal training under their belts. It is still a noble intention on the part of the FAA, and the extra knowledge may be useful for drone pilots moving forward.

On the other hand, NOT getting a drone license means that you will be in violation of FAA regulations every time you fly your drone for commercial purposes. Although uncommon, there have been cases of violators being charged by the FAA for penalties of up to $1400.  Additional penalties may even be imposed if the FAA deems that you have violated more than one of the relevant regulations. At the very least, the FAA will probably have enough grounds to outright confiscate your drone.

How much does it cost to get a drone license?

Right off the bat, registering your drone with the FAA will cost you a quick $5. This step has nothing to do with the knowledge test but is a necessary step before you apply for the drone license.

The next step is to sign up for the knowledge test. There are a lot of options on where you can take the test, and which company will handle it. In any case, it will cost $150 to sign up for the test. The total cost for drone registration and the signing up fee for the test is the bare minimum that you will need to spend to get a drone license.

What happens if you fail the test? Unfortunately, the sign-up fee is non-refundable, so you will have to pay another $150 to retake the knowledge test. If that’s money that you do not want to waste, then your best bet is to study.

There are dozens of study materials available online. Even the FAA has published their own online training course which is free for everyone. There are various other online courses, videos and podcasts that you can use to prepare for the knowledge test.

If you’re looking for a more structured training course, and you are willing to spend a little extra cash, then you can look into paid training courses such as the one offered by the Drone Pilot Ground School or Drone Launch Academy. These training courses can cost as low as $179 to more than $600. The great thing about paid training courses is that most of them offer a money back guarantee should you fail the knowledge test on your first take.

All in all, getting a drone license will cost you at least $155 to as high as $800. If you are planning to start a drone business, you can write off a significant portion of the training costs as tax deductible, so it’s not all that bad.

How long will it take before I get a drone license?

The process of getting a drone license is really quite simple. You sign up for the test, take the test, and wait for the results. If you pass, then you will have to apply for the license. At this point, the TSA does a background check on you before you are granted the remote pilot certificate.

So how long does the whole process take? By far the longest part of getting a drone license is the time that it will take for you to prepare for the knowledge test. While most training courses have content that run for a little more than 10 hours, it is generally not recommended that you finish all the training materials in the space of a single day. Rushing through the material does not help in knowledge retention. Study hours spread out over a week or two should yield the best results, but individual preferences may vary.

Once you have taken the test, it will take 48 to 72 hours before the results will be released. If you pass, then good for you If you fail, you will need to wait at least 14 calendar days before you are allowed to take the test again.

After you have filed your application for the drone license, the TSA will conduct its background check. How long this step takes varies from case to case. Some people have claimed that their TSA clearance was given in less than 2 weeks, while some had to wait for a month or longer. After this step, your temporary certificate will be sent to you by email while the permanent certificate should be on its way to you by regular mail.

All in all, it will probably take at least a month for you to secure a drone license. It might also take longer than 2 months, but that is probably an extreme case. Failing the knowledge test will set you back even further, so you should probably take all the time you need to prepare.

What are the benefits of having a drone license?

With all the time and money that you will need to commit to get a drone license, what can you get out of it? If you intend to use your drone to an essential part of your business, or to apply for an employment position using your drone flight skills, then it would a good leg up your competition if you had a drone license to show. As of writing, thousand have people have applied and secured their drone licenses. If the choice was between a drone pilot with a license and another that did not have a license, then chances are the guy with the license wins.

Aside from improving your chances of getting a drone pilot job, having a remote pilot certificate increases the credibility of your drone-based business. Running your business with a drone license sends a message to your clients that you know what you are doing, you know that you are working within FAA regulations, and that you prioritize safety while you are flying your drone.

Having a drone license also gives you permission to fly in selected controlled airspaces. According to Part 107 regulations, licensed drone pilots are permitted to fly their drones in a Class G airspace, or the airspace within 5 miles of an airport. A licensed drone pilot can do this even without notifying the nearby air traffic control tower.

Ultimately, the greatest benefit of having a drone license is the knowledge that you acquire during the process. Passing the knowledge test takes a good amount of effort, and you will learn things that you otherwise will not have learned if you had not applied for a drone license.

Not all the knowledge you pick up will be useful, but you are bound to run into something that will be valuable to you someday. For instance, you might not need to tell different types of clouds from each other, but it will be useful to know how meteorological conditions (such as pressure decrease or humidity) will affect how your drone flies.  You might not need to remember all the symbols in aeronautical charts, but it can be useful to know when you need to report a drone-related incident to the FAA.

Are there any disadvantages to getting a drone license?

If there’s a disadvantage to having a drone license, it is the fact that it means more work for you. Being a licensed drone pilot means you have to maintain a pre-flight checklist and logs of all your drone flights. You will also be required to report to the FAA certain drone-related accidents, such as when it results to property damage. The FAA also needs to be notified should you change your home address. There will basically be a lot of extra documentation that you will need to accomplish, which you otherwise would not have to bother with if you did not have a drone license.

Aside from the paperwork, applying for a drone license means agreeing with all of the Part 107 regulations. These include keeping your drone speed below 100 mph, flying only up to an altitude of 400 feet, keeping visual contact with your drone at all times, and not flying a drone at night. Granted, recreational drone pilots are still covered by these rules but being a licensed drone pilot probably means that the FAA will be less lenient on you should they find you violating the rules.

If you really need to fly under circumstances that are prohibited under the Part 107 regulations, you can apply for a waiver with the FAA. However, this takes some time to process.

In summary, being a licensed drone pilot means following all the FAA regulations concerning drone flight. This can be somewhat restrictive on where or when you can fly your drone. This just means that you will have to plan ahead and file a waiver before your photography or land survey gig. It’s not impossible, but it is also not convenient.

Is getting a drone license worth it?

Having outlined all of the money, time, and effort that you will need to spend to get a drone license versus the benefits and disadvantages of having one, it’s now time to answer the ultimate question: is getting the Part 107 drone license worth it?

There is no absolute answer to this. If you are only flying your drone as a hobby, then spending all that money to get a drone license (which expires in 24 months) may not be practical. What you can do is try to learn as much about the Part 107 regulations as you can. Although not necessary, this knowledge can go a long way towards making you a better and more responsible drone pilot.

If you fully intend to use your drone for commercial reasons, then we cannot recommend any other course of action but to get a drone license. After all, not having one while flying your drone for profit is literally illegal. You will be risking a stiff penalty, confiscation of your drone, and a poor reputation within the drone industry. Also, many people won’t want to hire you without it.

As we have already mentioned, the biggest benefit of being a licensed drone pilot is being more useful knowledge on drone operations and beyond. More than personal fulfillment and growth, being a more intelligent and responsible drone pilot will be your advantage as a commercial drone pilot. After all, you have already spent so much on your high-end drone and all of its accessories. What’s a few hundred dollars more if it helps you fly your drone better?

Ultimately, it’s a matter of being responsible drone pilots. As more and more drones take to the sky, the importance of having standards and regulations will be even more important. Accidents, privacy issues, communication issues – all of these might get out of control of the FAA if they did not step in at the early stages. As drone pilots, doing our part to keep the drone industry safe and thriving means getting a drone license and following all of the Part 107 rules.