Are you interested in obtaining your “drone license” so you can fly your drone and not get in trouble? Are you tired of reading articles written by people with little to no experience in aviation and just want to have an experienced professional tell you what to do?
If so, you are in the right place.
This page is the ultimate guide to educating you on what you need to do to obtain your drone license. This article was not written by some content writer like many of the other website but by me. I’m a practicing drone attorney and current FAA certificated flight instructor. I’m going to leverage this knowledge and experience to help you so you can confidently fly your drone without having to wonder if some government inspector would find your drone flying in violation of the law.
Table of Contents of Article
- 1 Background (How We Got Here)
- 2 Overview of the Laws
- 3 Which One Is Right for Me?
- 4 What Recreational Drone Flyers Need to Obtain
- 5 Why A Recreational Pilot Should Obtain a Commercial Drone license
- 6 Who Can Obtain a Commercial Drone License?
- 7 General FAQ’s Surrounding the “Commercial Drone License”
- 8 New Pilot Step-by-Step Guide to Obtain the Drone License.
- 9 New Pilot FAQs About the Drone License
- 10 Current Manned Aircraft Pilots Step-by-Step Instructions to Obtain the Drone License
- 11 Current Pilot FAQs Regarding the Drone License
- 12 Currency (Every 24 Months You Have to Prove Your Aeronautical Knowledge)
- 13 Where can I get some study material?
- 14 Conclusion
Background (How We Got Here)
Drones have been flown for years but the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) really didn’t start doing much till around 2005. The FAA then published the infamous 2007 policy statement which declared “that people and companies other than modelers might be flying UAS with the mistaken understanding that they are legally operating under the authority of [Advisory Circular] 91-57. AC 91-57 only applies to modelers, and thus specifically excludes its use by persons or companies for business purposes.” This is where the line started being drawn very deeply in the sand between recreational flyers and non-recreational flyers. The by-product of this policy statement was it essentially made commercial drone flying financially unreasonable, if you wanted to do it legally, because you would have to comply with all the Federal Aviation Regulations which were originally designed for manned aircraft.
In February 2012, the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 was passed. This had beneficial provisions for recreational and non-recreational flyers.
Later in September of 2014, the FAA issued some exemptions under the FRMA’s Section 333 (now called Section 44807). These exemptions at least made commercial drone operations some what workable to do but were still plagued with the requirement to have a sport pilot license which could cost $$$ to obtain and the requirement to stay at least 500 feet away from property you didn’t own and people not participating in your operation. Recreational flying remained largely unchanged during this time.
In May 2016, the FAA issued an interpretation that educational institutions could fly under the recreational category.
The FAA had been working on some commercial drone regulations since 2009 but didn’t make it a priority. Eventually in 2015 a notice of proposed rule making was published and on August 29, 2016, Part 101 and Part 107 became law. Part 107 explains how to obtain a drone license for non-recreational flying while Part 101 was for recreational flyers. There was no drone license requirement for recreational drone flyers at this time.
The FAA Re-Authorization Act of 2018 unfortunately repealed the law that allowed recreational drones to be very unregulated but made it law that institution of higher education could fly under recreational drone laws for educational or research purposes. On 12/11/2020, the FAA withdrew Part 101 subpart E as a regulation because it caused confusion and was overruled by 49 USC 44809 which came from the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018.
Overview of the Laws
Recreational Drone Test
The recreational drone laws have been in flux where the regulations were created, the law changed, but the old regulations staying on the books. Recreational pilots used to fly under 14 CFR Part 101 but the laws changed. Do NOT rely on Part 101 as it is no longer valid law. FAA withdrew Part 101 subpart E.
Currently, recreational fly according to 49 U.S.C. Section 44809. I have an in-depth article on recreational drone laws if you really want to understand everything and actually know exactly what are the recreational drone laws.
So do recreational drone pilots need to obtain a license? No, but they need to pass a test.
The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 created a new requirement that recreational drone fliers had to pass a knowledge and safety test. So it functionally acts like a license since you have to pass a test and you’ll use evidence of passing the test to prove you are compliant with the recreational drone laws.
This test has not been created because the FAA is still working on creating it. So how does one fly lawfully when they haven’t passed the test? The FAA published an updated Advisory Circular 91-57B explaining that until it is created, you could fly according that Advisory Circular.
Before you say “this is for me!”, I suggest you read my thoughts below on why I think recreational flyers should just obtain their remote pilot certificate and fly under that.
Commercial Drone License (Remote Pilot Certificate)
Pilots wanting to fly commercially have the option of flying under Part 107 or under Part 61 and Part 91. Each path has its own license requirements.
If you want to fly under Part 61 & 91 (because you are flying a big drone weighing 55 pounds and heavier or you are doing beyond line of sight package delivery), you’ll by default need a manned aircraft commercial pilot certificate. This is extremely burdensome and expensive. For 95% of these Part 91 operations, we just petition to the FAA to obtain an exemption from the regulations and fly instead with a remote pilot certificate. If you are confused by exemptions, waivers, COAs, etc., read my article where I compare the different methods of obtaining approval to fly.
For like 99% of the commercial drone pilots in the U.S., they fly under Part 107 because it is the easiest to fly under. If a pilot flies under Part 107, they will need to obtain a remote pilot certificate. This article will explain how to obtain this certificate. :)
Which One Is Right for Me?
Recreational drone laws are less burdensome than the non-commercial drone laws. To be in this special less regulated are, the flight must be for recreational purposes which includes educational institutions flying for education and research.
The FAA put out an interpretation memo in 2014 explaining the difference between recreational and non-recreational flights. Important: This interpretation was retracted but you can learn a lot about the FAA’s thoughts on this from this outdated memo because it gave examples.
- “Flying a model aircraft at the local model aircraft club.”
- “Taking photographs with a model aircraft for personal use.”
- “Using a model aircraft to move a box from point to point without any kind of compensation.”
- “Viewing a field to determine whether crops need water when they are grown for personal enjoyment.”
- Not Recreational
- “Receiving money for demonstrating aerobatics with a model aircraft.”
- “A realtor using a model aircraft to photograph a property that he is trying to sell and using the photos in the property’s real estate listing. A person photographing a property or event and selling the photos to someone else.”
- “Delivering packages to people for a fee.”
- “Determining whether crops need to be watered that are grown as part of commercial farming operation.”
There are still scenarios that I’m not sure of. Read my section on my thoughts on why you should obtain a remote pilot certificate.
Also, if you are flying in furtherance of your job, even if you are not getting paid for the flight, you are definitely not recreational. So government employees like police and fire will not be eligible for flying as recreational.
At this point, you should have a real good idea of which category you fall into.
What Recreational Drone Flyers Need to Obtain
Recreational Drone Test
Currently, the recreational drone test has not been created and we’ll have to wait till it’s created. Fly according to AC 91-57B until it is created.
What to Study to Prepare for the Recreational Drone Test
The test will be on:
“(A) understanding of aeronautical safety knowledge; and
(B) knowledge of Federal Aviation Administration regulations and requirements pertaining to the operation of an unmanned aircraft system in the national airspace system.”
Why A Recreational Pilot Should Obtain a Commercial Drone license
I’ve been adamant about recreational flyers obtaining a remote pilot certificate for some years now. You can fly recreationally under Part 107. It doesn’t prohibit you. It’s actually better in multiple ways. Here are 3 ways:
Recreational Pilots Have a Bigger Downside.
I’ve been helping clients navigate responding to FAA investigations. I’ve seen how situations can go south really bad for the recreational guys. Here is the big gotcha……when you violate one of the recreational restrictions, you are no longer seen as recreational but as non-recreational and the rest of the regulations apply. Instead of just a violation for one thing, the violation makes all the Part 107 regulations apply which means you end up getting more violations.
Consider the outcome of these two flyers who both flew over people:
|Recreational Flyer Under Section 44809||Recreational Under Part 107|
|Both Non-Compliant – Flying Over People 107.39|
|Both Non-Compliant – Flying in a way to cause undue hazard to people 107.19(c)|
|Both Non-Compliant – Flying in a careless reckless manner. 107.23|
|Fail to turn over documents to FAA or law enforcement upon request (because they don’t have a remote pilot certificate). 107.7(b)||Compliant|
|Flying a drone without a remote pilot certificate. 107.12(a)||Compliant|
|Acting as PIC without remote pilot certificate or current knowledge test. 107.12(b)||Compliant|
|Flying without aeronautical currency (passed remote pilot knowledge text) 107.65||Compliant|
|7 Possible Charges||3 Possible Charges|
You have less downside flying under Part 107.
Also, flying around people is problematic recreationally since an FAA safety inspector can have a hard time determining depth and might misjudge you flying over a person. The same goes for commercial pilots flying under Part 107. This is one reason I’ve suggested that if you are going to be flying near people, just go obtain the over people waiver. An over people waiver from me will most likely cost less than a civil penalty from a enforcement action from the FAA. If you need an over people waiver, contact me because I have obtained some.
Here’s what the FAA’s own order on how to do enforcement actions says:
“The Pilot’s Bill of Rights (PBR), Public Law 112-153 (Aug. 3, 2012), as amended by Public Law 115-254 (Oct. 5, 2018), requires investigative personnel to provide airmen who are the subject of an investigation with timely PBR notification, i.e., written notice of the investigation, unless the notification would threaten the integrity of the investigation[.]”
It’s the pilot’s version of a Miranda warning. Sweet huh? But it’s not required for recreational pilots. The same FAA order says,
“PBR notification is not required to be provided when the apparent violator is not the holder of an airman certificate (or the apparent violation cannot result in legal enforcement action against an airman certificate)”
Clarity and Predictability
People ask me questions on can they do such-n-such operations. Here are some examples:
- Using your drone to take pictures to submit with your home insurance claim.
- Volunteer fire rescue.
- Volunteer search and rescue for missing people.
- OOOOO and the most frequent of all time question……”I took a picture for fun last month. Turns out people want to buy it. Can I sell it now?”
There are all sorts of arguments and important points that can be made in these scenarios. And I’m sure you have arguments back. Or facts. Whatever. At the end of the day, it’s unpredictable as to how some FAA safety inspector is going to handle your unique factual scenario.
If you have a remote pilot certificate, the answer to all of the scenarios above is really simple.
People Are More Familiar With It.
This is just a practical one. Who in the world actually knows the current state of the recreational drone laws? Most cops fly under Part 107. If you get stopped and are complying with Part 107 (something they might be somewhat semi-proficient with), you could have less issues during a stop.
Who Can Obtain a Commercial Drone License?
To obtain your commercial drone license you must:
- Be at least 16 years old
- Be able to read, speak, write, and understand English (exceptions may be made if the person is unable to meet one of these requirements for a medical reason, such as hearing impairment)
- Be in a physical and mental condition to safely operate a small UAS
- For brand new pilots and non-current manned pilots, pass the initial aeronautical knowledge exam at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center which is $150 but some military guys can get it for $0. For current manned pilots, they can take a free online course.
General FAQ’s Surrounding the “Commercial Drone License”
Why do you use the term “commercial drone license” in the title of one of your blog posts when the correct term is remote pilot certificate?
I know the correct term is remote pilot certificate; however, when writing a blog post, it is important to write a title that would be understood by new individuals or the term used by newbies when searching on Google. If you were new to this area, what would you type in Google? Commercial drone license or remote pilot certificate? A simple search on Google search volume shows that “drone license” is more than twice the volume of “remote pilot certificate.” I wrote the articles for first-time pilots, not existing pilots who know how to speak “aviationese.” I also wrote the article to rank high in Google so high-quality information could be found on the drone license.
Do I Need a Pilot License’s to Fly a Drone Commercially?
Yes, but it is NOT one of the expensive manned aircraft pilot licenses most people think about. You only need the Part 107 remote pilot certificate (also informally known as a “commercial drone license”) to operate your drone commercially. This commercial drone license allows you to fly your drone for profit. Keep in mind that you are not limited to profit making flights. You can fly recreationally under Part 107 or as a government employee (police, fire, etc.).
Does My Business Have to Obtain a Commercial Drone License to Use Drones?
No, only individuals can obtain the drone license. However, businesses can obtain waivers or authorizations and allow their remote pilots to fly under those. There must be a remote pilot in command for each non-recreational flight and they must possess a current drone license.
Why Is It Called a Remote Pilot Certificate and Not a Commercial Drone Pilot License?
The term “pilot license” is what is used commonly to describe FAA airmen certificates. The FAA certificates aircraft, mechanics, airmen, remote pilots, etc., they don’t license. For non-recreational drone operators, the proper term is a remote pilot certificate. These certificates are being issued with a small unmanned aircraft rating which means the pilot could only operate a drone that is under 55 pounds. I foresee the FAA adding ratings onto the remote pilot certificate for certain types of operations such as over 55-pound operations, night, beyond visual line of sight, etc.
What Happens If I Fly the Drone Commercially Without a Drone License?
You could get fined for each regulation you are violating under Part 107. The FAA has been prosecuting drone operators. You could be violating multiple regulations per flight. If you land and then take off again, that is 2x the number of fines since you are breaking the same regulations again on the second flight. Now you understand why Skypan ended up with a $1.9 million aggregate fine. They later however settled with the FAA for $200,000.
How Can I Obtain the Commercial Drone License?
You have two ways to obtain your commercial drone license:
(1) Pass the remote pilot initial knowledge exam, submit the information onto IACRA, pass the TSA background check, & receive your remote pilot certificate electronically; or
(2) If you are a current manned aircraft pilot, take the free online training course from the FAA, submit your application on IACRA, receive your remote pilot certificate electronically.
Each method for obtaining the commercial drone license has different steps from the other. Keep reading below for super detailed step-by-step instructions for EACH of these methods.
I’m Brand New. What Are the Steps to Obtaining a the Drone License?
I have step-by-step instructions here.
What if I Have a Manned Aircraft Pilot Certificate Already?
You still have to obtain the remote pilot certificate (“drone license”). If you have a current biannual flight review and a manned pilot certificate, other than a student pilot certificate, your instructions are located here on how to obtain it.
Is it Harder to Obtain the Commercial Drone License than a Manned Pilot License?
Any of the manned aircraft pilot licenses require actual flight experience while the remote pilot certificate a.k.a. “drone license” does not have any requirement for the person to have any flight experience.
The 2015 statistics for those taking their remote pilot knowledge exam had a passage rate of 88.29% and those taking the private pilot knowledge exam had a passage rate of 89.44%. Another interesting thing was that the majority of those obtaining their drone license early on were those with manned aircraft pilot licenses. They had the ability to take a free online training course and then apply on IACRA to obtain their drone license. They had to do very little studying to pass the free online training course which explains why the high rates.
Are there any discounts or coupons for the remote pilot knowledge test?
- AOPA members were able to get a discount. Check to see if that is still the case.
- JSAMTCC “In November 2011, the JSAMTCC entered into an MOA with the FAA to provide the full array of airman knowledge tests to select groups of individuals associated with the five branches of the U.S. Military, the DOD, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).” Read Chapter 6 for complete info.
- Active-duty, guard, and reserve component personnel of the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Navy
- U.S. Military retirees;
- U.S. Military dependents;
- Department of Defense (DOD) civilians; and
- Department of Homeland Security (DHS) civilians.
New Pilot Step-by-Step Guide to Obtain the Drone License.
To prevent any problems with obtaining the drone license, do these steps in the exact order of how they appear in this list.
Step 1. Figure When to Schedule the Test.
- Take an honest inventory of the hours you have PER DAY to study for the test.
- Multiply the hours by 5. (You are most likely going have things that pop up during the week and you’ll need a day to rest.)
- Now you have an idea of how many hours per week you can dedicate to studying.
- The free study guide I created has a bunch of pages. It’s fluctuating over time as I try and keep it current. Use the total number of pages in that free study guide to estimate how much time it will take to study. For example, say it is a total of 538 pages to read. 538 pages x 2 minutes = 1,076 minutes of reading (17.93 hours). Keep in mind you are not a robot so you are going to have to go back over and study certain areas to retain the information. If you can set aside 5 hours a week to study, in roughly 3.5 weeks you could have completed all of the reading. I would add on 2 additional weeks for extra studying after you have completed all of the reading to go over the areas that you are having a hard time understanding.
Step 2. Schedule Test Quickly
Immediately schedule a time to take the FAA Part 107 knowledge test at one of the testing sites. Figure out which test site you want to take the test at.
Step 3. Start Studying
I created free 100+ page Part 107 test study guide. The study guide has the material the FAA suggested you study, but I added essential material they left out. It also comes with 65 sample Part 107 exam questions that are answered and explained. Think of it as your “personal trainer” for Part 107 to get you into a lean mean testing machine. You can read the Part 107 test study guide online or you can sign up for the free drone law newsletter and be able to download the PDF to study on the go. Keep in mind the study guide was for initial test takers.
Step 4. Make a Business Plan.
Now that you know what the rules are, make a business plan for operations under Part 107 once you obtain the drone license. Go back and skim over the Part 107 Summary and read about Part 107 waivers (COAs). You might want to branch out into non-107 types of operations.
Step 5. Figure Out Peripheral Issues
Once you have figured out what types of industries and operations you plan on doing, you should spend this time:
- Building or updating your website.
- Buying the aircraft or practicing flying your current aircraft.
- Obtaining drone insurance for the aircraft that will perform the operations.
- Finding an attorney for each of the particular areas of law listed below. You may not need the lawyer right away but you have time to calmly make decisions now as opposed to rapidly making decisions in the future when your business is growing. You won’t have time in the future as you do now. Put their numbers in your phone. Ideally, you should have a retainer/ billing relationship set up to get answers rapidly.
- Business / tax – (Preferably both)
- Criminal – (in case you get arrested because of some drone ordinance you stumbled upon).
Step 6. Take and Pass the Part 107 Knowledge Test.
Starting January 13, 2020, you will NEED to obtain a FAA Tracking Number (FTN) from Integrated Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application system (IACRA) to take the test.
Step 7. Complete FAA Form 8710-13:
- By filling out the paper-based version of FAA Form 8710-13 and mailing it off OR
- Online for a remote pilot certificate (FAA Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application) using the electronic FAA Integrated Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application system (IACRA).
- Login to IACRA with your username and password. If you don’t remember them, follow the “Forgot Username or Password” link.
- Applicant Console
- From the Applicant Console, you can start new applications and view any existing applications. Click Start New Application
- Select ‘Pilot’ from the Application Type drop-down list. This will now show the different types of pilot certificates IACRA has available.
- Click on Remote Pilot. Starting a Remote Pilot Application
- The Application Process page will open, and the Personal Information section will be open. This section will be prepopulated with the information you entered when you registered. If no changes are needed, click the green Save & Continue button at the bottom of this section.
- The Supplementary Data section will open. Answer the English Language and Drug Conviction questions. If you would like to add comments to your application, you can do so here. Click Save & Continue.
- The Basis of Issuance section will open.
- Enter all the information related to your photo ID. A US passport or US driver’s license is preferred.
- Enter the knowledge test ID in the Search box. PLEASE NOTE: It can take up to 72 hours after you take your knowledge test before it is available in IACRA. When you find the test, click the green Associate Test button. Now click Save & Continue.
- The Review and Submit section will open.
- Answer the Denied Certificate question.
- Summary information info will be displayed.
- You must view the Pilots Bill of Rights, Privacy Act and Review your application before you can continue.
- Sign and Complete
- You should now sign the Pilots Bill of Rights Acknowledgement form.
- Sign and complete your application.
- Your application is now complete and will be automatically sent to the Airman Registry.
- After 2-4 days, your temporary certificate will be available in IACRA. You will also receive an email reminder.
- Your permanent certificate (“drone license”) will arrive by mail.
New Pilot FAQs About the Drone License
If I pass this Part 107 remote pilot exam, can I charge for the flight?
Yes, provided you fly within the requirements of Part 107 and have your drone license.
Part 107 isn’t for model aircraft people but just commercial people, right?
Part 107 has incorrectly been understood to be for commercial flyers. It isn’t. It is for everyone that can fly under its operational parameters. It is just that non-recreational aircraft flyers can only fly in Part 107 which lead to everyone incorrectly thinking Part 107 is for commercial. This caused confusion because some entities are not recreational or commercial! Non-profit environmental organizations or fire departments are two good situations where they aren’t charging for the flight and cannot fall into model aircraft operations yet they aren’t commercial. Commercial, recreational, government employees, non-profits, etc. can all fly under Part 107.
How much does the remote pilot initial knowledge exam cost?
First time pilots have to take the initial knowledge exam which is estimated at $150. Current manned pilots can either take the initial knowledge exam for $150 or take an initial online training course for free. Either of those are pre-requisites to submitting an application to obtain the drone license.
When does Part 107 go into effect?
August 29, 2016.
Where can I take the 107 knowledge exam?
You take it at a knowledge exam testing center. A complete list is located here.
How can I Study for the Part 107 Knowledge Test to Get My Drone License?
I created a FREE 100+ page Part 107 test study guide which includes all the information you need to pass the exam. Let me repeat. ALL the information needed to pass the test is in this study guide. Additionally, the study guide comes with 6 “cram” summary pages, 65 sample Part 107 exam questions that are answered and explained, and 24 super hard brand-new practice questions NO ONE ELSE HAS.
There are many paid training sources out there. But I do not know of any of them that are FAA certificated flight instructors AND also practicing aviation attorneys. Be skeptical of most of the 107 courses out there as some of them had to hire FAA certificated flight instructors to teach the material. This implicitly means they do NOT know the subject. Did the flight instructor they hire edit the material or just merely be recorded. In other words, what quality assurance do you have that the paid 107-course creators didn’t botch something up in the post-production?
Additionally, here is a list of Part 107 articles for you to study further:
- FAA’s New Part 107 Drone Regulations- What Drone Operators Need to Know
- Part 107 Waiver (COA) – What Drone Pilots Need to Know
- Part 107 Airmen Certification Standards Explained
- Part 107 Knowledge Test (65Questions Answered & Explained)
- More Part 107 Test Questions for Remote Pilot Knowledge Test
- How to Fly Your Drone at Night-(Part 107 Night Waiver from 107.29)
How Long Does It Take to Receive My Drone License After I Submit on IACRA?
If you have a pilot certificate and took the initial knowledge exam, you have already passed a TSA security threat assessment background check when you obtained your manned aircraft pilot certificate. This means you will have your drone license faster than someone brand new going through the process.
If you are brand-new, I canNOT estimate because (1) the TSA’s backlog of pending IACRA applications and (2) I don’t know all the factors the FAA and TSA are looking at now.
I saw some link on the Facebook forums about a Part 107 test. I took it and received a certificate. Is this my drone license?
That FAA online test is NOT the Part 107 initial knowledge exam you need to take to obtain your drone license. That test is ONLY for the current manned aircraft pilots who wish to obtain their drone license. That online test by itself isn’t ALL they need to do to obtain the drone license. They still need to do a few additional things. See Current Manned Aircraft Pilots Step-by-Step Instructions to Obtain the Drone License for more information.
How many different exams are there?
The current manned aircraft pilots can take either the initial online training course or the Part 107 initial knowledge exam while the first time pilots can ONLY take the initial Part 107 knowledge exam. After you receive your drone license, you’ll have to pass recurrent training within 24 calendar-months to keep your currency.
I read some people on Facebook telling me about the law and the drone license……
Let me stop you right there. Getting aviation law advice off Facebook forums is like getting medical help off Craigslist – it’s dumb. Yes, I know there are a few good attorneys online that do help, but there are also a ton of posers. Friends don’t let friends drive drunk or get aviation law info off Facebook. It is stupid to get advice on the internet. If the person on the internet goofs up, what happens is your drone license is on the line and potentially a fine or arrest. They have little downside while you could lose your ability to make money from your drone license.
On top of this, some of the people on these Facebook groups are committing the unlicensed practice of law by picking up clients for legal work but are too ignorant of their own criminal laws to know they are breaking these laws. Offering to help you be compliant with the law – while breaking the law themselves.
What happens if I fail the Part 107 initial knowledge test? Am I forever prevented from obtaining the drone license?
The FAA’s Advisory Circular says on page 27, “Retaking the UAS knowledge test after a failure:
- 14 CFR part 107, section 107.71 specifies that an applicant who fails the knowledge test may not retake the knowledge test for 14 calendar days from the date of the previous failure.
- An applicant retesting after failure is required to submit the applicable AKTR indicating failure to the testing center prior to retesting.
- No instructor endorsement or other form of written authorization is required to retest after failure.
- The original failed AKTR must be retained by the proctor and attached to the applicable daily log.”
TSA Background Check for the Drone License Questions
I Made Some Mistakes in My Past. What Do the TSA and FAA Look For? What Disqualified Me from Receiving a Drone License?
I don’t know all the factors. I can say the FAA really does not like alcohol and drug related crimes. They also don’t like a breath refusal.
(a) A conviction for the violation of any Federal or State statute relating to the growing, processing, manufacture, sale, disposition, possession, transportation, or importation of narcotic drugs, marijuana, or depressant or stimulant drugs or substances is grounds for:
(1) Denial of an application for a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating for a period of up to 1 year after the date of final conviction; or
(2) Suspension or revocation of a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating.
(b) Committing an act prohibited by §91.17(a) or §91.19(a) of this chapter is grounds for:
(1) Denial of an application for a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating for a period of up to 1 year after the date of that act; or
(2) Suspension or revocation of a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating.
A refusal to submit to a test to indicate the percentage by weight of alcohol in the blood, when requested by a law enforcement officer in accordance with §91.17(c) of this chapter, or a refusal to furnish or authorize the release of the test results requested by the Administrator in accordance with §91.17(c) or (d) of this chapter, is grounds for:
(a) Denial of an application for a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating for a period of up to 1 year after the date of that refusal; or
(b) Suspension or revocation of a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating.
I’m a new pilot, does TSA pre-check or global entry count? I want to get my drone license as quick as possible.
I’m a part 61 pilot trying to obtain my remote pilot certificate, do I have to get TSA background checked?
No, you already had your check when you obtained your Part 61 certificate.
I’m a fire fighter, law enforcement officer, government agency employee, etc……can I get my 107 certificate and then go do government stuff?
Sure. But keep in mind that sometimes it might be beneficial to get a Public COA to accomplish the mission as there are certain restrictions with Part 107. However, there are Part 107 waivers that can be obtained. Contact me as each situation is different. See my article on public COA vs Part 107.
I did a drone certification course with some company, does that count? Is that the same as a drone license?
No, your “certification” is worth nothing. A bunch of these drone courses popped up being taught by unqualified individuals who were far more proficient at WordPress and Mailchimp than they were at teaching weather and manuals. Only the FAA can certify you.
Do you have to have a pilot’s license to fly a drone?
It depends. If you are flying recreationally according to Part 101, you do NOT need to have a pilot license. If you are flying non-recreationally (commercial, etc.), then you would need a pilot certificate.
Current Manned Aircraft Pilots Step-by-Step Instructions to Obtain the Drone License
You may be either a sport, recreational, private, commercial, or air transport pilot. You CANNOT be a student pilot. Additionally, the pilot must be current according to 14 C.F.R. § 61.56. This can be done multiple ways but the most popular is they have a sign off in their logbook saying they have completed their bi-annual flight review (BFR).
For some, getting a BFR can be much more expensive than taking the Part 107 initial knowledge exam which costs $150. You can be a non-current pilot and take the initial knowledge exam, then submit your application on IACRA. You’ll receive your temporary drone pilot license (remote pilot certificate) electronically so many days later. If this is your situation, then do the “first-time pilot” steps above.
From the FAA 2020-2040 Forecast, the FAA stated that 31.36% of the remote pilots ALSO had a Part 61 manned aircraft certificate while 68.64% were only Part 107 airmen.
Step 1. Start Studying
- Read the 3-page Part 107 Summary.
- Go and read Part 107 regulations. Anytime you have a question about something, make a note and keep reading.
- Read the Advisory Circular to Part 107. Notice that the advisory circular has parts that parallel the parts in Part 107 to help answer any questions you have about the regulations.
Step 2. Complete the Online Training Course
Look for the “Part 107 small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) ALC-451” available on the FAA FAASTeam website.
Step 3. Fill Out Your Application
Complete FAA Form 8710-13 (FAA Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application for a remote pilot certificate)
B. Either way, you are going to need to validate applicant identity on IACRA or 8710-13.
- Contact an FSDO, an FAA-designated pilot examiner (DPE), an airman certification representative (ACR), or an FAA-certificated flight instructor (CFI) to make an appointment to validate your identity. I would suggest doing this with the FSDO because the inspector can give you a temporary certificate at the same time! Look up your local FSDO and make an appointment. Note: FSDO’s almost always do not take walk-ins. You can also go to a DPE but I think it is better to meet your local FSDO employees because they are the ones that will be doing the investigations in your area.
- Present the completed FAA Form 8710-13 along with the online course completion certificate or knowledge test report (as applicable) and proof of a current flight review.
- The completed FAA Form 8710-13 application will be signed by the applicant after the FSDO, DPE, ACR, or CFI examines the applicant’s photo identification and verifies the applicant’s identity. If you are using a CFI to help you process your application, make sure you and they read FAA article below called Tips for CFIs Processing Remote Pilot & Student Pilot Applications.
- The identification presented must include a photograph of the applicant, the applicant’s signature, and the applicant’s actual residential address (if different from the mailing address). This information may be presented in more than one form of identification.
- Acceptable methods of identification include, but are not limited to U.S. drivers’ licenses, government identification cards, passports, and military identification cards (see AC 61-65 Certification: Pilots and Flight and Ground Instructors)
- The FAA representative will then sign the application.
Step 4. Obtain Temporary Certificate
Find an appropriate FSDO representative, a FAA designated pilot examiner (DPE), or an airman certification representative (ACR) who can issue the applicant a temporary airman certificate. A CFI is not authorized to issue a temporary certificate. CFIs can process applications for applicants who want a temporary certificate and submit the information on IACRA so that the applicate will receive the temporary electronically so many days later.
Step 5. Receive Permanent Certificate
A permanent remote pilot certificate (drone pilot license) will be sent via mail once all other FAA internal processing is complete.
Step 6. Set a reminder on your calendar to stay current.
The currency is limited so make sure you set a calendar reminder for about 2 months before it runs out. This is discussed more down below.
If you need legal services or want to set up enterprise operations to get all your in-house pilots certified, fleet and pilot management, or crew training, contact me at to help with those needs. I work with many other certified aviation professionals to help large companies integrate drones into their operations to be profitable and legal. When looking for aviation law help, don’t hire a poser – hire an attorney who is a pilot.
Current Pilot FAQs Regarding the Drone License
How long does my temporary certificate last?
Section 107.64(a) says, “A temporary remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating is issued for up to 120 calendar days, at which time a permanent certificate will be issued to a person whom the Administrator finds qualified under this part.”
Do I Have to Get Another Medical Exam Before I Fly Under My Drone License?
No, a remote pilot certificate does NOT require a medical certificate. However, section 107.17 says, “No person may manipulate the flight controls of a small unmanned aircraft system or act as a remote pilot in command, visual observer, or direct participant in the operation of the small unmanned aircraft if he or she knows or has reason to know that he or she has a physical or mental condition that would interfere with the safe operation of the small unmanned aircraft system.”
I’m a current part 61 pilot trying to obtain my remote pilot certificate, do I have to get TSA background checked?
No, you already had your check when you obtained your Part 61 certificate. This means you’ll receive your remote pilot certificate faster than a new pilot.
Currency (Every 24 Months You Have to Prove Your Aeronautical Knowledge)
Section 107.65 says, a “person may not operate a small unmanned aircraft system unless that person has completed one of the following, within the previous 24 calendar months:
(a) Passed an initial aeronautical knowledge test covering the areas of knowledge specified in §107.73(a);
(b) Passed a recurrent aeronautical knowledge test covering the areas of knowledge specified in §107.73(b); 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, passed either an initial or recurrent training course covering the areas of knowledge specified in §107.74(a) or (b) in a manner acceptable to the Administrator.”
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 Part 101.
After I take my recurrent training, do I have to do anything else like IACRA?
If you already have your remote pilot certificate, you just need to keep the documentation to prove you did recurrent training. The IACRA thing was for getting the remote pilot certificate but you already have that.
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 have 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 September 15, 2016 and received his remote pilot certificate. This means Bob needs to do (a),(b), or (c) no later than September 30, 2018. Otherwise, he’ll have to stop flying under Part 107 until he does (a), (b), or (c).
- Tony passed the exam with Bob on September 15, 2016. He received his remote pilot certificate. He did not take the recurrent training until October 10, 2018 and passed in the afternoon at 1:34PM. Tony could not fly from October 1-10 up till he passed the test 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 training on December 14, 2019. He is good until December 31st, 2021.
Important point. Please note that when calculating currency, you are going off of when you did (a), (b), or (c) above, NOT when you received your remote pilot certificate or what is dated on your certificate.
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 or
- 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.
Dude, are you saying I should bring along my knowledge exam with my remote pilot certificate with me when I fly?
Well, it is a good idea in case that someone you are dealing with also read my article and wonders if you really are current.
Additionally, the FAA said this, “The FAA does not specify the method by which the certificate holder stores and displays his or her knowledge test report or course completion certificate; however, the certificate holder must provide the documents to the FAA upon request.” So a second reason to keep it with you is in case the FAA stops you.
Where can I get some study material?
I have multiple courses over at www.rupprechtdrones.com on particular topics. They are designed to be inch-wide and a mile-deep as opposed to what’s generally available for 107 training. The courses cover many things not covered elsewhere. Just try it out. You can sign up for a free trial and watch some of the videos.
Ok ok. So you still want the free stuff.
You have two methods:
(2) Sign up for the PDF study guide. :) It’s a pop-up you might have ignored on the website.
You can use these articles to study for your drone license or use them to brush up on the material so you can stay proficient and safe.
- FAA’s New Part 107 Drone Regulations- What Drone Operators Need to Know
- Part 107 Waiver (COA) – What Drone Pilots Need to Know
- Part 107 Airmen Certification Standards Explained
- Part 107 Knowledge Test (65 Questions Answered & Explained)
- More Part 107 Test Questions for Remote Pilot Knowledge Test
It looks like we are off to a good start. You have the steps you need to take to achieve your goals and the study materials to assist. If you are trying to figure out next steps after you obtain the certificate, one way to set yourself apart from the typical 107 competition is to obtain waivers or authorizations. If you are interested in any of the waivers to stand out from the crowd, don’t hesitate to contact me.
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