Table of Contents of Article
Section 107.65 Aeronautical knowledge recency.
A person may not exercise the privileges of a remote pilot in command with small UAS rating unless that person has accomplished one of the following in a manner acceptable to the Administrator within the previous 24 calendar months:
(a) Passed an initial aeronautical knowledge test covering the areas of knowledge specified in § 107.73;
(b) Completed recurrent training covering the areas of knowledge specified in § 107.73; or
(c) If a person holds a pilot certificate (other than a student pilot certificate) issued under part 61 of this chapter and meets the flight review requirements specified in § 61.56, completed training covering the areas of knowledge specified in § 107.74.
(d) A person who has passed a recurrent aeronautical knowledge test in a manner acceptable to the Administrator or who has satisfied the training requirement of paragraph (c) of this section prior to April 6, 2021 within the previous 24 calendar months is considered to be in compliance with the requirement of paragraph (b) or (c) of this section, as applicable.
- Part 107 Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Initial (ALC-451) – Current Part 61 certificate holders are eligible to take this course.
- Part 107 Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Recurrent (ALC -515) – Part 107 remote pilots who are also certificated and current under Part 61 are eligible to take this course.
- Part 107 Small UAS Recurrent Non-Part 61 Pilots (ALC-677) – Part 107 remote pilot certification holders (regardless of currency) are eligible to take this course.
My Commentary on Section 107.65 Aeronautical knowledge recency.
You used to have to complete a recurrent knowledge exam by going to a knowledge testing center. The FAA changed this. You can now do online training provided it covers the areas of knowledge specified in 107.74.
Currency (Every 24 Months You Have to Prove Your Aeronautical Knowledge)
Section 107.65 says,
(a) Passed an initial aeronautical knowledge test covering the areas of knowledge specified in § 107.73;
(b) Completed recurrent training covering the areas of knowledge specified in § 107.73; or
(c) If a person holds a pilot certificate (other than a student pilot certificate) issued under part 61 of this chapter and meets the flight review requirements specified in § 61.56, completed training covering the areas of knowledge specified in § 107.74.
(d) A person who has passed a recurrent aeronautical knowledge test in a manner acceptable to the Administrator or who has satisfied the training requirement of paragraph (c) of this section prior to March 16, 2021 within the previous 24 calendar months is considered to be in compliance with the requirement of paragraph (b) or (c) of this section, as applicable.” (Emphasis mine).
You need 1 of the following within the previous 24 calendar months to operate under Part 107; however, if you don’t meet this, you are grounded from flying under Part 107 but you still could fly recreationally under Section 44809.
Does your remote pilot certificate expire?
No, you don’t lose your remote pilot certificate. It really shouldn’t be termed recertification as you are NOT getting a certificate again or having to worry about losing the certificate. You just cannot exercise the privileges of the remote pilot certificate.
Everyone typically gets confused by what I just said. I’ll give you some examples.
- Bob passes an initial aeronautical knowledge test on February 19, 2019 and received his remote pilot certificate. This means Bob needs to do (a), (b), (c), or (d) no later than February 28, 2021. Otherwise, he’ll have to stop flying under Part 107 until he does (a), (b), (c), or (d).
- Tony passed the exam with Bob on September 15, 2019. He received his remote pilot certificate. He did not take the recurrent training until October 10, 2021 and passed in the afternoon at 1:34PM. Tony could not fly from October 1-10 up till he passed the recurrent training around 1:33-34PM. Once he passed, he was good to go for another 24 months (October 31st, 2020 @ 11:59 PM).
- Sam, who also passed with Bob and Tony on September 15, 2016, received his remote pilot certificate but didn’t really do much drone flying because of life circumstances. He managed to pass the recurrent knowledge exam on December 14, 2019. He is good until December 31st, 2021.
Important point. Please note that when calculating recency, you are going off of when you did (a), (b), (c), or (d) above, NOT when you received your remote pilot certificate or what is dated on your certificate.
How do I check if someone else is current?
You would think the FAA would have just put expiration dates on the remote pilot certificates like they do with my flight instructor certificate but no. If you search the FAA airmen registry, you’ll just see date of issue but not when currency expires.
If you are checking a person’s currency (like if you are hiring a person or if you are a police officer stopping a drone flyer) you need to ask them for:
- Method 1: their remote pilot certificate AND initial knowledge exam test report or recurrent training documentation.
- Method 2: their Part 61 pilot certificate (but not student pilot certificate), how they meet the flight review requirements of 61.56, AND their initial or recurrent online training course certificate.
You find the date in method 1 or 2. You add two years and then find the last day of the month. It is important to know this as there might be some scam artists out there trying to save $150 by not taking a knowledge exam and hoping people don’t check.
If they lost their knowledge test, they can obtain it. Starting January 13, 2020, everyone will need to use their FTN to take the initial or recurrent knowledge test. The FAA PDF says, “Ability for the applicant to reprint lost/destroyed AKTRs from the testing vendor’s website. For all knowledge tests taken before January 13, 2020, applicants must contact the FAA Airmen Certification Office (AFB-720) for replacement, embossed copies of lost/destroyed AKTRs.” The FAA put out a FAQ document on the FTN situation here https://www.faa.gov/training_testing/testing/acts/media/ftn_faqs.pdf
Should bring along my knowledge exam or training complete documentation with me when I fly?
Well, it is a good idea in case that someone you are dealing with also read my article and wondering if you really are current.
Corona Virus is preventing me from taking knowledge test. What can I do?
My remote pilot knowledge test is about to expire, and I can’t go take the test because of Corona Virus. What can I do?
It isn’t just remote pilots. All of aviation is affected by the Corona Virus. So the FAA did something about it…with two different Special Federal Aviation Regulations.
On May 4, 2020, the FAA issued an emergency special federal aviation regulation (SFAR) giving some temporary relief. The quick summary for remote pilots was this:
- Remote pilots, who are still current, about to lose currency (April through June) and want to take a knowledge exam for currency, but cannot due to the Corona Virus, can instead take a free online course on the FAA’s website. This allows you to fly for another 6 months from the date of online course.
- Manned aircraft pilots who want to maintain currency for 24 months for Part 107 can do this provided (1) they were current as of March but needed a BFR sometime in March through June, (2) within the previous 12 calendar months they obtained 10 hours as PIC in an aircraft they are rated, (3) taken courses totally 3 Wings credits (taken after January 2020), and (4) took the FAA online remote pilot course. Their BFR currency will be for 3 months and their remote pilot currency for 24 months.
It was a temporary relief….but Corona Virus did not go away and things did not go back to normal.
Sooooooooo you guessed it.
Second SFAR (Amending First SFAR)
On June 29, 2020 the FAA published a Federal Register notice amending the previous SFAR because “Airmen continue to have trouble complying with certain training, recency, checking, testing, duration, and renewal requirements even as stay-at-home advisories are lifted. Even as the Nation transitions to various phases of reopening throughout the country, authorities continue to promote social distancing and limiting exposure to slow the spread of the virus.”
Ya, it didn’t go away so…..
Third SFAR (Amending First)
On October 6, 2020, the FAA published a Federal Register notice amending the first SFAR. It changed things for other areas of aviation but didn’t do anything for Part 107 so everything from the 2nd SFAR is still in effect.
Text of Final Rule Applicable to Part 107 Remote Pilots
(7) Aeronautical Knowledge Recency Requirements of § 107.65 of this Chapter.A person who has not satisfied the aeronautical knowledge recency requirements of § 107.65(a) or (b) of this chapter within the previous 24 calendar months may operate a small unmanned aircraft system under part 107 of this chapter, provided that person meets the following requirements—
(i) Airmen requirements. The person was current to exercise the privileges of a remote pilot certificate in March 2020 and, to maintain aeronautical currency, is required to meet the aeronautical recency requirements in § 107.65(a) or
(b) of this chapter between April 1, 2020 and September 30, 2020.
(ii) Qualification requirements. The person must have completed an FAA developed initial or recurrent online training course, available at www.faasafety.gov, covering the areas of knowledge specified in § 107.74(a) or (b) of this chapter. Each person is eligible to take an online training course specified in this paragraph 2.(b)(7)(ii) one time for the purpose of obtaining the six calendar month grace period specified in paragraph 2.(b)(7)(iii) of this SFAR;
(iii) Grace period. The person may operate a small unmanned aircraft system under part 107 of this chapter for a duration of six calendar months from the month in which the person completed the online training course specified in paragraph 2.(b)(7)(ii) of this SFAR. Before operating a small unmanned aircraft system under part 107 in the seventh month after the month in which the person completed the online training course, the person must satisfy § 107.65 of this chapter.
Text of the FAA Discussing the Final Rule for Part 107 (From Second SFAR)
4. Aeronautical Knowledge Recency (§ 107.65) Section 107.65 requires remote pilots certificated under part 107 to establish recency of knowledge every 24 calendar months. To meet the recency of knowledge requirement per § 107.65(a) or (b), remote pilots must pass an FAA knowledge test at a knowledge testing center. The initial and recurrent knowledge tests required by § 107.65(a) or (b) cover the comprehensive list of knowledge areas specified in § 107.73(a) or (b), respectively. Section 107.65(c) allows remote pilots who are also certificated under part 61 and have a current flight review in accordance with § 61.56 to complete online training to meet aeronautical knowledge recency.The initial or recurrent training course covers the condensed list of knowledge areas specified in § 107.74(a) or (b), respectively, because the part 61 pilot who has a current flight review has already demonstrated knowledge of many of the topic areas tested on the UAS knowledge test.
Under the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID -19 public health emergency, eligible remote pilots who would normally establish recency of knowledge in accordance with § 107.65(a) or (b) may complete online training as an alternative if required to establish recency between April 2020 and September 2020. The remote pilot may complete the FAA-developed initial or recurrent online training courses at www.faasafety.gov one time to establish knowledge recency for six calendar months. As previously stated, the initial or recurrent online training course covers a condensed list of UAS-specific knowledge areas because it is intended for persons who hold part 61 pilot certificates and satisfy the flight review requirements of § 61.56. The FAA finds that, for a limited duration of time, allowing remote pilots to complete one of these online training courses is an adequate alternative to passing a knowledge test. However, because these courses do not include all the knowledge areas under § 107.73(a) or (b) that a remote pilot is required to be tested on every 24 calendar months, the remote pilot will need to establish knowledge recency in accordance with § 107.65 upon conclusion of the six calendar months. Remote pilots who qualify to establish recency of aeronautical knowledge per § 107.65(c) are not included in this relief. Pilots who use the relief from § 61.56 in this SFAR amendment may establish recency of aeronautical knowledge per § 107.65(c) and retain remote pilot privileges for 24 calendar months.
Text of Final Rule for those Using 61.56(c) to become current under 107.65(c).
(2) Flight review requirements of § 61.56. A person who has not completed a flight review within the previous 24 calendar months in accordance with § 61.56 may continue to act as pilot in command of an aircraft, provided the following requirements are met—
(i) Airmen requirements. The person was current to act as pilot in command of an aircraft in March 2020 and, to maintain currency, is required to complete a flight review under § 61.56 between March 1, 2020 and September 30, 2020.
(ii) Qualification requirements. To act as pilot in command of an aircraft during the period specified in paragraph 2.(b)(2)(iii) of this SFAR, the person must have—
(A) Within the 12 calendar months preceding the month in which the flight review is due, logged at least 10 hours of flight time as pilot in command in an aircraft for which that pilot is rated; and
(B) Since January 1, 2020 and preceding the date of flight, completed online Wings courses for pilots from the FAA Safety Team website, available at www.faasafety.gov. The online training courses must total at least 3 Wings credits.
(iii) Grace period. The person may act as pilot in command of an aircraft for a duration of three calendar months from the month in which the flight review was due. Before acting as pilot in command of an aircraft in the fourth month after the month in which the flight review was due, the person must satisfactorily complete a flight review in accordance with § 61.56
Text Applicable to Part 61 Pilots Utilizing 107.65(c). (Section 61.56(c) Biannual Flight Review)
Section 61.56(c) states that no person may act as PIC of an aircraft, unless since the beginning of the 24th calendar month before the month in which that person acts as PIC, that person has accomplished a flight review in an aircraft for which that person is rated and the person’s logbook has been endorsed for that review by an authorized instructor certifying the review was satisfactorily completed.
The FAA finds, under the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID–19 public health emergency,
that extending the 24-calendar month requirement of § 61.56(c) by up to three calendar months will not adversely affect safety, provided the extension applies to active pilots and certain risk mitigations are met. The three-calendar month extension applies to pilots who were current to act as PIC of an aircraft in March 2020 and whose flight review was due in March 2020 through September 2020. Eligible pilots must complete the requirements prescribed in SFAR 118 prior to serving as a PIC.
The FAA notes that, for pilots whose flight review was due in March 2020, the three-month grace period is available through June 30, 2020, and these pilots must complete the requirements in § 61.56 before acting as PIC after June 30, 2020.
Keep in mind that this COVID-19 SFAR applies to many other things such as duration of medical certificates, renewal of flight instructor certificates, etc. You can read the entire document here.
Corona Virus SFAR Frequently Asked Questions (Answered by Jonathan):
My knowledge test currency already expired. How does this new Corona Virus SFAR benefit me?
This is only for those who are presently current. If you already expired, you are not eligible.
Can this be used to extend my night waiver or airspace authorization?
No. Which should cause you to start planning now to file before things expire. Some waivers start expiring in August. If you need help with over people or night waivers, contact me.
Does it last 6 months from date of my recency expiration or 6 months from the date I complete the online course?
It’s 6 months from the month you took the online course. So if you took the online course on 5/1, you would be good through the last day November (11/30).
Can I use this Corona Virus SFAR to get out of taking my initial recurrent knowledge exam?
No, you can't use this as some creative loophole to skip the initial recurrent knowledge exam. Yes, the SFAR talks about remote pilots taking an initial knowledge exam and that is because they have already passed an initial knowledge exam and have the option keeping current by taking the initial or recurrent knowledge exam.
Can you explain this calendar month thing? If I took the knowledge test on the 5th of July, does that mean I expire on the 5th of July or the 31st?
Calendar month is all of the days within that month. If you took it on July 5, 2018, your knowledge currency expires on July 31st, 2020. Basically, just remember it as all the way to the last day of that month. So a cool little hack you can do is take the test on the 1st of the month and you almost like 25 months later.
How much does the FAA online course cost?
It’s free. The two FAA Courses are ALC-451 (Part 107 Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (small UAS) Initial) and ALC-515 (Part 107 Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (small UAS) Recurrent).
How many times can we do this?
Once. You cannot keep like doing it over and over to scooch on out the 6 months until the Corona Virus situation is resolved. Figure out when you are going to lose currency and do it shortly before it ends to get your full 6 months in.
Do the course you have over at Rupprecht Drones count towards this?
No, the night operations course, airspace and chart reading course, and Part 107 regulations over at Rupprecht Drones were not designed for this; however, we area structuring them all (and the future courses in the works) so you could take your future recurrent knowledge exams online through our courses according to the proposed regulations. Head over to www.rupprechtdrones.com and check out the courses and free videos.
6.7.2 Recurrent Training. After an individual receives a Remote Pilot Certificate with a small UAS rating, that individual must retain the level of knowledge required to safely operate a small UAS in the NAS. To continue exercising the privileges of a Remote Pilot Certificate, the certificate holder must successfully complete recurrent training within 24 calendar-months of passing either an initial knowledge test or initial knowledge training. Figure 6-1, Recurrent Training Cycle Examples, illustrates an individual’s potential renewal cycles.
Figure 6-1. Recurrent Training Cycle Examples
Individual passes an initial aeronautical knowledge test on September 13, 2020. Then Recurrent training must be completed no later than September 30, 2022, which does not exceed 24 calendar-months.
Individual does not pass recurrent training until October 5, 2020. Then Individual may not exercise the privileges of the Remote Pilot Certificate between October 1, 2020, and October 5, 2020, when the training is completed. The next recurrent knowledge training must be completed no later than October 31, 2022, which does not exceed 24 calendar-months.
Individual elects to take recurrent training on or prior to September 30, 2020. The recurrent training is completed on July 15, 2020. Then The next recurrent training must be completed no later than July 31, 2022, which does not exceed 24 calendar-months.
FAA Commentary from the Preamble of:
X. Part 107 Remote Pilot Knowledge Testing and Training
The NPRM proposed to maintain the initial knowledge test requirement and initial training requirement for persons seeking to obtain a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating. However, with respect to recency of experience requirements, the FAA proposed to require recurrent training every 24 calendar months in lieu of the recurrent knowledge testing. Additionally, the NPRM proposed to add a knowledge area covering operations at night for the initial knowledge test, initial training, and recurrent training. The NPRM also proposed to revise the list of knowledge areas for remote pilots, requiring inclusion of the same list of knowledge areas on both the initial knowledge test and the recurrent training for pilots who hold a remote pilot certificate under § 107.65(b). As for pilots who already hold a pilot certificate under part 61 as described in § 107.65(c), the NPRM proposed to require the initial and recurrent training to cover identical knowledge areas. For the reasons discussed below, the Agency adopts these proposed amendments without change.
A. Recurrent Training and Aeronautical Knowledge Recency
Prior to this final rule, § 107.65(a) and (b) required persons to complete either an initial aeronautical knowledge test or a recurrent aeronautical knowledge test within the previous 24 calendar months prior to operating a small UAS. This final rule revises § 107.65(b) to allow remote pilots to take recurrent training instead of a recurrent aeronautical knowledge test. People who hold a part 61 pilot certificate (other than a student pilot certificate) who have completed a flight review within the previous 24 calendar months in accordance with § 61.56 may continue, under § 107.65(c), to complete either initial or recurrent training covering the areas of knowledge specified in § 107.74.
Recurrent training ensures remote pilots maintain ongoing familiarity with small UAS operations and the provisions of part 107. Moreover, remote pilots can complete recurrent training online, which provides a less costly option and results in the remote pilot maintaining a level of knowledge comparable to receiving recurrent testing. The FAA’s use of online training enables the FAA to adapt the training as necessary as technology or regulations change.
The rule continues to allow an eligible person who holds a part 61 pilot certificate (other than a student pilot certificate) to complete training on the knowledge areas specified in § 107.74 when seeking a remote pilot certificate. Furthermore, the rule allows all remote pilots to complete recurrent training online every 24 calendar months, in place of a recurrent knowledge test. The rule amends the aeronautical knowledge test and training requirements for remote pilots provided in §§ 107.73 and 107.74 to include a new knowledge area related to operating a small UAS at night. For more information about the testing and training on the night operations knowledge area, please see Section IX.B.
This final rule requires the initial knowledge test and the recurrent training cover identical areas of knowledge under § 107.73. Similarly, for eligible part 61 pilots, the initial training and recurrent training will cover the same knowledge areas under § 107.74. The FAA is concurrently updating the part 107 Airman Certification Standards (ACS), the initial aeronautical knowledge test, the part 107 certification course for eligible part 61 pilots, and the recurrent training. The updated aeronautical knowledge test and updated training replaces the current knowledge test and training after the effective date of the rule. Both the updated aeronautical knowledge test and the updated training will be available on March 1, 2021.
NASAO asked that the recurrent education make pilots aware of updates to operating rules, rather than retesting the initial knowledge test. One commenter believed there should be a “grading scale” to ensure pilots have stayed current on operations and regulations. Another commenter agreed that it was likely that operators would need to take refresher training, but suggested that if an individual scores above a certain level on their initial knowledge test, the FAA exclude that person from having to take recurrent training. Several commenters objected to the current 24-month interval for the testing and recurrent training process. Commenters recommended a range of intervals for recurrent training from 36 months to 5 years, or eliminating altogether for “professional operators.”
Part 107 requires the recurrent training to cover applicable regulations relating to small UAS rating privileges, limitations, and flight operation. As a result, recurrent training will ensure remote pilots are aware of current and updated operating rules. While a high score on an initial aeronautical knowledge test may demonstrate initial competency, knowledge is perishable and degrades over time. Online recurrent training allows remote pilots to maintain critical knowledge and keep abreast of dynamic issues, including changes to regulations, that arise while ultimately completing the updated knowledge requirements related to operating small UAS. Additionally, the Agency finds the 24-month interval an appropriate time period. This recurrent training interval is consistent with the requirement for manned aircraft pilots meeting the requirement to complete a flight review as required by § 61.56. On completion of this recurrent training, a printable completion certificate is available to demonstrate aeronautical knowledge recency in accordance with the revisions to § 107.65. The FAA provides educational material on the FAA website about updates to operating rules. AOPA commented that the FAA should not be the exclusive provider of the required knowledge training because there are numerous training courses offered by industry that might be more effective and better meet the needs of the unmanned aircraft operator. Another commenter asked the FAA to clarify what training would qualify.
The Coalition of Airline Pilots Association suggested the FAA require all small UAS operators to meet the same operational recency and testing requirements that are currently in place for manned commercial airman certificates. ALPA noted that a person who manipulates the flight controls of a small UAS should be a certified pilot and pass a knowledge test, but objected that the proposed requirement would allow an individual to be granted a remote pilot certificate without assurance of practical experience with a small UAS. Several commenters recommended specific practical training requirements, including flight training for operations over people and at night. One commenter believed an unprepared remote pilot may have to resort to manual flight operation and may not be qualified for that operation. AUVSI commented that any mandatory training involving operations over people should be competency-based. They also recommended the FAA consider how industry initiatives could support a new training requirement to help ensure that small UAS operations occur safely and in accordance with the rules. Another commenter wrote a higher level of training should be required to operate a small UAS commercially.
The Agency continues to find that formal training, a practical test for the issuance of a part 107 remote pilot certificate, and testing requirements similar to those for part 61 commercial pilot certificates, are not necessary. As discussed in the 2016 final rule, the limitations of many small unmanned aircraft (e.g., size, ease of landing, lack of people on board), combined with the operational restrictions of part 107, minimize the need for flight proficiency testing or formal training. A prescriptive formal training requirement is not necessary for part 107 operations. Instead, this rule allows remote pilot certificate applicants to attain the necessary aeronautical knowledge through any number of different methods, including self-study, enrolling in a training seminar or online course, or through one-on-one instruction with a trainer familiar with small UAS operations and part 107. This performance-based approach is preferable because it allows individuals to select a method of study that works best for them. The FAA maintains this rationale for operations over people and night operations. While the introduction of operations over people and night operations may introduce additional complexity to the NAS, the FAA developed the design and operational requirements of this rule to balance the risk associated with the incremental integration of small UAS. This rule discusses those risk mitigations in more detail in Sections VI and IX, respectively.
The FAA understands formal training would be overly burdensome to an applicant. By requiring a person to only take a knowledge test for certification, allowing online recurrent training, and not requiring formal training, the FAA anticipates that this will result in cost savings for remote pilots, as discussed in the regulatory impact analysis. In addition, requiring formal training and a practical test would not be consistent with the original framework of part 107. The FAA does not find it necessary to require practical testing to obtain a remote pilot certificate. This approach is consistent with the risk-based framework the 2016 final rule established.
One commenter expressed concern that requiring the recurrent training to be identical to the initial training for part 61 pilots would be duplicative. Commenters asked the FAA to review the areas already covered in the Private Pilot Airman Certification Standards and keep duplicative or conflicting subject areas to a minimum. Another commenter suggested that part 61 should include certification to be a remote pilot.
As discussed previously, knowledge degrades over time and requiring recurrent training provides assurances that experienced remote pilots remain aware of the specifics of operating a small UAS. Additionally, as noted in the NPRM, the FAA finds it necessary to ensure consistency in remote pilots’ knowledge of the topic areas for the safe operation of small UAS. To compensate for the differences between manned aircraft and small unmanned aircraft, the list of knowledge areas includes topics that are specific to small UAS operations. For example, determining the performance of a manned aircraft is distinct from the manner in which a pilot should determine the performance of a small UAS; in this regard, the preflight check requirements of § 107.49 are distinct from those codified in part 91 and in other, similar regulations specific to manned aircraft.
Several commenters objected to the cost associated with the initial knowledge test and other commenters recommended the FAA lower the test costs. However, one commenter wrote that everyone who owns a small UAS should have to pass the initial knowledge test and recurrent testing to eliminate the threat of people flying dangerously. One commenter objected to having to pay a third party for recurrent testing. Some commenters wrote that section 44809 of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 requires the FAA to develop a test for recreational operations that can be administered online and that this should be extended to part 107 remote pilot certification, thereby reducing the cost to $50 associated with the initial knowledge test.
The FAA clarifies that part 107 does not mandate formal training to obtain a remote pilot certificate, and any cost that a part 107 applicant incurs for formal training is at their discretion. Additionally, on March 1, 2021 the FAA will provide free, online recurrent training to all remote pilots. The FAA enters into contracts for testing delivery through a third party vendor. The FAA’s rationale to contract the initial test through knowledge testing centers remains the same as it was in the 2016 final rule. This delivery model allows the FAA to enter into a contract that provides a zero cost model to the U.S. government and to the taxpayers. The testing vendor has many locations throughout the United States that are close to large and small population centers, therefore the requirement to take a knowledge test at a testing location is not an undue burden on applicants. The third party vendor is allowed to charge the contract rate to administer a knowledge test; however, that amount is not to exceed $160. The FAA Reauthorization Bill of 2018 requirement for the FAA to have an online test for limited recreational operators does not apply to part 107 remote pilot certification.
B. Other Comments Related to Initial Testing or Recurrent Training
Several commenters expressed concern about the risks of people without certification or training operating small UAS. Other commenters, referencing certification of pilots and mandatory registration for equipment, stated that all operators should be licensed regardless of size or weight of small unmanned aircraft. The FAA agrees that persons operating small UAS in the NAS should have appropriate aeronautical safety knowledge, knowledge of applicable rules, and knowledge of airspace constraints before operating in the NAS. Part 107 rules require that all small unmanned aircraft are registered and operated by a certificated remote pilot. The FAA currently requires initial testing or training before the issuance of a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating for operations under part 107.
Multiple commenters requested that both testing and training be provided online, with several commenters specifically recommending that the initial knowledge test be available online. The FAA agrees that in-person recurrent testing under part 107 is no longer necessary for part 107 certificate holders. Therefore, to meet the recency requirements under § 107.65, any person who holds a part 107 certificate may maintain recency of experience by completing an online training course. For security reasons, the initial knowledge testing must be done in person, similar to the regulatory framework for training under part 61.
A commenter suggested that test questions for each online test be pulled randomly from a larger set of questions so an applicant cannot take the same test over and over until the applicant achieves a score of 100 percent and would be required to learn the material. The part 107 knowledge tests are created from a large bank of questions that were specifically drafted for small UAS remote pilot certification. Although it is possible that a person could take the part 107 knowledge test enough times that they would eventually see all of the questions, and possibly get them all correct, this is not very probable especially given the mandatory 14-day waiting period required before a person can retake the knowledge test after a failure. In addition, a person who is not prepared for the test, and does not have a working knowledge of the material, will have a very low probability of passing the test. The FAA will continue to administer knowledge testing in the same form and manner that has proven effective for many years.
A commenter recommended the FAA define minimum standards for training that would allow certain people to conduct operations without requiring a waiver to operate over people or at night. This rule adopts routine night operations and operations over people without the need for waivers. Additionally, under part 107, the FAA does not maintain minimum standards for training like those in part 61. For example, an applicant for a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating does not have to show that they have received formal training from a certified instructor on the National Airspace System. As there are two pathways for remote pilot certification, an applicant will have either met a minimum testing standard via a knowledge test or they will have taken training which will also test their knowledge. All persons who hold a remote pilot certificate will also need to maintain currency by taking currency training every 24 months from the month in which they take and pass the knowledge test or training for certification. The updated knowledge areas for the testing and training requirements are the minimum standard for small UAS operations conducted under part 107.
Some commenters proposed the Agency tailor the part 107 knowledge test to specific types of operators or certain topics and have different tests based on the type of operation. A few commenters recommended the part 107 knowledge test be redesigned to better test commercial small UAS pilots piloting skills and safe operations. These commenters noted the part 107 knowledge test appeared to derive from manned pilot standards and the Pilot Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (PHAK), which the commenters argued do not apply directly to small UAS flights. Another commenter asked for knowledge and testing specific to small UAS operations over people, such as first aid training. A commenter suggested the FAA have two separate knowledge tests: A basic test for hobbyists and small businesses, etc., and a more complex test for large commercial operations, large, fixed-wing small unmanned aircraft, or those flying in urban areas or all over the country.
All test questions were developed specifically for the part 107 remote pilot certification. Some of the required test questions, however, are also applicable to manned aircraft, such as questions related to airspace regulations that apply to all aircraft. The FAA carefully evaluated the knowledge test areas to ensure they remain comprehensive. The small UAS Airman Certification Standards and knowledge test contain each of the topics required for knowledge and testing, and the Agency does not consider remote pilot first aid training a necessary requirement for such low-risk operations. The requirements are the same for anyone flying under part 107; therefore, the knowledge and training should be the same for all certificated remote pilots under part 107.
Some commenters suggested passing the part 107 knowledge test or the level of the remote pilot’s training and experience should permit them certain privileges. A commenter wrote that passing the part 107 test should grant part 107 pilots the ability to fly over people and beyond line of sight. A commenter requested the FAA add levels of additional authorization for a remote pilot to fly over people, carry payloads, or fly at night based on their levels of training and experience added as ratings to the certificate. One commenter stated that part 61 pilots should have more “capability and freedom,” as they have already demonstrated their responsibility by obtaining a part 61 certificate. Another commenter asked the FAA to educate businesses that use remote pilots without a part 107 certificate to conduct commercial small UAS operations.
The FAA declines to add authorizations or ratings to the remote pilot certification in this final rule. A person who holds a remote pilot certificate is afforded all privileges of the certificate. The FAA has taken the approach of tailoring its requirements for night operations and operations over people with the expectation that all part 107 pilots have the same level of certification. The Agency did not propose authorizing routine beyond visual line of sight operations in this rulemaking; therefore, adding authorizations or ratings to address such operations is beyond the scope of the rule. Additionally, part 107 does not prohibit payload-bearing operations, but the small unmanned aircraft and any payload must be less than 55 pounds and must follow all applicable regulations for safe operation. Remote pilots who operate a small UAS under part 107 without an FAA-issued pilot certificate are subject to the FAA’s Compliance and Enforcement Policy. Additional educational material is available on the FAA website.
The FAA took a risk-based approach to defining the airman certification requirements for small UAS remote pilots, and in light of the contained nature of operations, opted not to propose specific training, flight experience, or demonstration of proficiency in order to be eligible for a certificate. A remote pilot certificate applicant’s knowledge of small UAS, as well as regulations concerning safe operations in the NAS, can adequately be evaluated through an initial and recurrent knowledge tests. A person who has acquired the pertinent knowledge will pass the knowledge tests while a person who has not done so will fail the test.
In response to commenters’ concerns about rote memorization, the FAA notes that in addition to passing the initial knowledge test, remote pilot certificate holders will also have to pass a recurrent knowledge test every two years to ensure that they have retained the knowledge necessary to safely operate in the NAS. Further, remote pilot certificate holders will also be subject to continuing FAA oversight. The FAA emphasizes that under 49 U.S.C. 44709 and § 107.7(b), the FAA may reexamine a certificated remote pilot if it has sufficient reason to believe that the remote pilot may not be qualified to exercise the privileges of his or her certificate.137 Because the qualification framework for the remote pilot certificate is based on aeronautical knowledge, a reexamination under section 44709 and § 107.7(b) would be limited to the certificate holder’s aeronautical knowledge. The reexamination may be conducted using an oral or written knowledge test.
A prescriptive formal training requirement is not necessary in this rule. Instead, this rule will allow remote pilot certificate applicants to attain the necessary aeronautical knowledge through any number of different methods, including self-study, enrolling in a training seminar or online course, or through one-on-one instruction with a trainer familiar with small UAS operations and part 107. This performance-based approach is preferable because it will allow individuals to select a method of study that works best for them. These methods of study will then be validated by whether or not the individual is able to pass the knowledge test. As noted in OMB Circular A-4, performance-based standards are generally preferable in a regulation because they allow the regulated parties “to choose the most cost-effective methods for achieving the regulatory goal and create an incentive for innovative solutions.”
The FAA will publish Advisory Circulars to assist remote pilots in operating small UAS safely in the NAS. The FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam) will also host online training courses. These training courses could be used as one method of studying for the knowledge test. Lastly, because there is already a robust network of nearly 700 testing centers located throughout the country set up to administer FAA knowledge tests, the FAA has opted not to establish new standards for small UAS remote pilot testing centers.
f. General Requirement for Initial Aeronautical Knowledge Test
The NPRM proposed requiring applicants for a remote pilot airman certificate with a small UAS rating to pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test to demonstrate that they have sufficient aeronautical knowledge to safely operate a small UAS. The FAA adopts the provisions as proposed with three changes. First, as discussed in III.F.2.i below, the FAA exempts part 61 pilot certificate holders from the requirement to complete an initial knowledge test as long as they satisfy the flight review requirements of their part 61 pilot certificate and complete an online training course within the preceding 24 months. Second, as discussed in III.F.2.h below, the FAA will require that pilots with military experience operating unmanned aircraft pass an initial knowledge test in order to obtain a remote pilot certificate with small UAS rating, and pass a recurrent knowledge test every 24 months subsequent in order to continue to exercise the privileges of that certificate.
Many commenters, including National Association of State Aviation Officials, NAAA, ALPA, and NAMIC, supported the FAA’s proposal to require an initial aeronautical knowledge test in order to operate a small UAS. Conversely, several commenters opposed the initial aeronautical knowledge test. Commenters argued that initial testing is “overkill” and the FAA should treat small UAS pilots like part 103 ultralight vehicle pilots and not require airman certification or testing. The commenters further argued that all testing is unnecessary and inappropriate.
The FAA disagrees with the commenters who asked that the knowledge test be abolished. Title 49 U.S.C. 44703 requires the FAA to ensure that an airman certificate applicant is qualified and able to perform the duties related to the position to be authorized by the certificate.
Here, in order to meet its statutory obligation to determine that an applicant for a remote pilot certificate possesses the knowledge necessary to safely operate in the NAS, the FAA is requiring that those persons pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test. Knowledge testing is the most flexible and efficient means for ensuring that a remote pilot possesses the requisite knowledge to operate in the NAS because it allows the applicant to acquire the pertinent knowledge in whatever manner works best for him or her. The applicant can then take and pass the aeronautical knowledge test to verify that he or she has indeed acquired the pertinent areas of knowledge.
NAFI recommended that an applicant should be required to obtain an instructor endorsement to take the initial aeronautical knowledge test. SkyView Strategies suggested that to protect the public from a poorly prepared UAS operator who receives a passing grade but gets important questions wrong, the UAS operator should be required to present to a flight training instructor his or her written test results, noting areas where knowledge is lacking.
The FAA disagrees with the recommendation that an applicant should be required to obtain an instructor endorsement to take the initial aeronautical knowledge test. While an instructor endorsement is generally required for part 61 pilot certificates, the significantly reduced risk associated with small UAS operations conducted under part 107 would make this framework unduly burdensome in this case. Instead, a stand-alone knowledge test is sufficient to verify the qualification of the remote pilot certificate applicant. Because the aeronautical knowledge test will determine whether an applicant possesses the knowledge needed to safely operate a small UAS, a separate flight instructor endorsement should not be required to take the knowledge test. The FAA also notes that the costs associated with failing and having to retake the knowledge test will provide an incentive to applicants to pick a method of study that maximizes the chance of them passing the aeronautical knowledge test on the first try.
The FAA also does not agree that a certificate applicant should be required to present to a flight instructor his or her knowledge test results for remedial training. The FAA maintains that if a candidate is “poorly prepared,” then that person is unlikely to pass the knowledge test.
The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture suggested that a more appropriate “aeronautical knowledge exam” needs to be developed with input from UAS users. It further suggested that the FAA should periodically revisit the scope of the aeronautical knowledge test as operational experience data increases. FAA knowledge test banks are continuously updated to address changes to the industry, safety, and special emphasis areas. While the FAA responds to industry and user community feedback, the small UAS knowledge test bank is developed internally within the agency to protect the integrity of test.
g. General Requirement for Recurrent Aeronautical Knowledge Test
The FAA proposed that a certificated remote pilot must also pass a recurrent aeronautical knowledge test every 24 months. Like the flight review requirement specified in § 61.56, the recurrent knowledge test provides the opportunity for a remote pilot’s aeronautical knowledge to be reevaluated on a periodic basis. The FAA adopts this provision as proposed, with one change. As discussed in III.F.2.i, the FAA exempts part 61 pilot certificate holders from the requirement to complete recurrent knowledge tests as long as they satisfy the flight review requirements of § 61.56 and complete an online training course every 24 months.
ALPA, AOPA, AUVSI and several other commenters supported the requirement for a recurrent knowledge test. Conversely, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and a few individual commenters argued that a recurrent knowledge test is unnecessary. The Colorado Cattlemen’s Association explained that small UAS operations present a substantially reduced risk as compared to manned-aircraft operations. Therefore, the commenter argued, it is appropriate to impose different, and in some instances lesser, operational requirements.
The FAA disagrees with the notion that no periodic reevaluation of knowledge is necessary. Knowledge of rules, regulations, and operating principles erodes over time, particularly if the remote pilot is not required to recall such information on a frequent basis. This is a fundamental principle of airman certification, and it applies to all FAA- certificated airmen. For part 61 pilot certificate holders, the flight review, conducted under § 61.56, specifically requires “[a] review of the current general operating and flight rules of part 91” in addition to maneuvers necessary to safely exercise the privileges of the certificate. Likewise, the FAA considers a recurrent knowledge test to be an effective means of evaluating a remote pilot’s retention of knowledge necessary to safely operate small unmanned aircraft in the NAS. Because of the reduced risk posed by small UAS, the FAA is not requiring remote pilots to demonstrate a minimum level of flight proficiency to a specific standard or recency of flight experience in order to exercise the privileges of their airman certificate.
Drone Labs suggested extending the time period between recurrent tests to 5 years, and/or making the test available online to ease recertification. Kansas Farm Bureau recommended a 6-year interval between recurrent tests, similar to the interval for renewal of a driver’s license.
The FAA does not agree that the recurrent testing interval should be longer than two years. Unlike the privileges afforded by a driver’s license, which are exercised on a frequent basis by most drivers, many holders of remote pilot certificates may only exercise their privileges occasionally or may not regularly conduct operations that apply all of the concepts tested on the aeronautical knowledge test. For example, a remote pilot in command may spend years never operating outside of Class G airspace, and then may move to a different location that requires him or her to begin conducting small UAS operations in Class D airspace. Based on experience with manned pilots, those persons who exercise the privileges of their certificate on an infrequent basis are likely to retain the knowledge for a shorter period of time than those who exercise the privileges of their certificate on a regular basis.
Further, as unmanned aircraft operations increase in the NAS, the FAA anticipates the possibility of further changes to rules and regulations. By requiring evaluation on a two-year cycle, the FAA is able to ensure that remote pilots are aware of the most recent changes to regulations affecting their operations.
The FAA acknowledges, however, the burden associated with in-person testing every two years. As such, the FAA intends to look at (in the Operations of Small Unmanned Aircraft Over People rule) alternative methods to further reduce this burden without sacrificing the safety benefits afforded by a two-year recurrent knowledge check.
i. Credit to Holders of Part 61 Pilot Certificates
For the reasons discussed below, this rule will allow part 61 pilot certificate holders (other than the holders of a student pilot certificate) with current flight reviews139 to substitute an online training course for the aeronautical knowledge testing required by this rule.
Airborne Law Enforcement Association and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, suggested requiring only the recurrent knowledge test for part-61-certificated pilots. Numerous commenters also suggested that holders of part 61 airman certificates should be required to take only the recurrent knowledge test, not the initial knowledge test, or should be exempted entirely from knowledge-testing requirements. One commenter suggested that the holders of private, commercial, and ATP certificates who have operated UAS under exemptions be exempted from the initial knowledge test requirement. Another commented that non-military COA pilots should be permitted to take just the recurrent test, since the applicants will usually hold at least a private pilot certificate. One commenter stated that those applicants who hold part 61 pilot certificates should be required only to complete UAS-specific modules as part of the existing FAA Wings program. Another commenter stated that there should be a provision to enable existing small UAS pilots witha certain amount of logged PIC time to fly a small UAS without having to take a knowledge test.
The FAA agrees with commenters who suggested that requiring part-61-certificated pilots who satisfy the flight-review requirements of § 61.56 to take an initial or recurrent knowledge test is unduly burdensome. Through initial certification and subsequent flight reviews, a part-61-certificated airman is required to demonstrate knowledge of many of the topic areas tested on the UAS knowledge test. These areas include: airspace classification and operating requirements, aviation weather sources, radio communication procedures, physiological effects of drugs and alcohol, aeronautical decision-making and judgment, and airport operations. Because a part 61 pilot certificate holder is evaluated on these areas of knowledge in the course of the part 61 certification and flight review process, reevaluating these areas of knowledge on the initial and recurrent knowledge tests conducted under part 107 would be needlessly duplicative.
However, there are UAS-specific areas of knowledge (discussed in section III.F.2.j of this preamble) that a part-61-certificated pilot may not be familiar with. Accordingly, instead of requiring part-61 certificated pilots who are current on their flight reviews to take the initial and recurrent knowledge tests, this rule will provide those pilots with the option to take an online training course focusing on UAS-specific areas of knowledge. Just as there is an initial and recurrent knowledge test, there will also be an initial and recurrent training course available to part 61 pilot certificate holders. Those certificate holders will be able to substitute the initial training course for the initial knowledge test and the recurrent training course for the recurrent knowledge test. To ensure that a certificate holder’s UAS-specific knowledge does not become stale, this rule will include the requirement that a part 61 pilot certificate holder must pass either the recurrent training course or the recurrent knowledge test every 24 months.
The FAA emphasizes that the online training course option in lieu of taking the knowledge test will be available only to those part 61 pilot certificate holders who satisfy the flight review required by § 61.56. This is to ensure that the certificate holder’s knowledge of general aeronautical concepts that are not included on the training course does not become stale. Part 61 pilot certificate holders who do not meet the flight review requirements of § 61.56 will be unable to substitute the online training course for the required aeronautical knowledge test. Thus, under § 107.63(a)(2), a part 61 pilot certificate holder seeking to substitute completion of the initial training course for the initial aeronautical knowledge test will have to present his or her logbook upon application for a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating to demonstrate that he or she has satisfied this requirement. The applicant will also have to present a certificate of completion showing that he or she has completed the initial online training course.
The FAA also notes that the above discussion does not apply to holders of a part 61 student pilot certificate. A person is not required to pass an aeronautical knowledge test, pass a practical (skills) test, or otherwise demonstrate aeronautical knowledge in order to obtain a student pilot certificate. Further, student pilot certificate holders who have received an endorsement for solo flight under § 61.87(b) are only required to demonstrate limited knowledge associated with conducting a specific solo flight. For these reasons, the option to take an online training course instead of an aeronautical knowledge test will not extend to student pilot certificate holders.