Section 107.73 Initial and recurrent knowledge tests.
(a) An initial aeronautical knowledge test covers the following areas of knowledge:
(1) Applicable regulations relating to small unmanned aircraft system rating privileges, limitations, and flight operation;
(2) Airspace classification, operating requirements, and flight restrictions affecting small unmanned aircraft operation;
(3) Aviation weather sources and effects of weather on small unmanned aircraft performance;
(4) Small unmanned aircraft loading;
(5) Emergency procedures;
(6) Crew resource management;
(7) Radio communication procedures;
(8) Determining the performance of small unmanned aircraft;
(9) Physiological effects of drugs and alcohol;
(10) Aeronautical decision-making and judgment;
(11) Airport operations; and
(12) Maintenance and preflight inspection procedures.
(b) A recurrent aeronautical knowledge test covers the following areas of knowledge:
(1) Applicable regulations relating to small unmanned aircraft system rating privileges, limitations, and flight operation;
(2) Airspace classification and operating requirements and flight restrictions affecting small unmanned aircraft operation;
(3) Emergency procedures;
(4) Crew resource management;
(5) Aeronautical decision-making and judgment;
(6) Airport operations; and
(7) Maintenance and preflight inspection procedures.
My Commentary on Section 107.73 Initial and recurrent knowledge tests.
Aeronautical Knowledge Tests (Initial and Recurrent). It is important to have and retain the knowledge necessary to operate a small UA in the NAS. This aeronautical knowledge can be obtained through self-study, taking an online training course, taking an in-person training course, or any combination thereof. The FAA has published the Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Airman Certification Standard (https://www.faa.gov/training_testing/testing/acs/) that provides the necessary reference material.
Note: The below information regarding initial and recurrent knowledge tests apply to persons who do not hold a current part 61 airman certificate.
6.6.1 Initial Test. As described in paragraph 6.4, a person applying for remote pilot certificate with an sUAS rating must pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test given by an FAA-approved KTC. The initial knowledge test will cover the aeronautical knowledge areas listed below:
1. Applicable regulations relating to sUAS rating privileges, limitations, and flight operation;
2. Airspace classification and operating requirements, and flight restrictions affecting small UA operation;
3. Aviation weather sources and effects of weather on small UA performance;
4. Small UA loading and performance;
5. Emergency procedures;
6. Crew Resource Management (CRM);
7. Radio communication procedures;
8. Determining the performance of small UA;
9. Physiological effects of drugs and alcohol;
10. Aeronautical decision-making (ADM) and judgment;
11. Airport operations; and
12. Maintenance and preflight inspection procedures.
18.104.22.168 A part 61 certificate holder who has completed a flight review within the previous 24 calendar-months may complete an initial online training course instead of taking the knowledge test (see paragraph 6.7).
22.214.171.124 Additional information on some of the knowledge areas listed above can be found in Appendix B.
6.6.2 Recurrent Test. After a person receives a remote pilot certificate with an sUAS rating, that person must retain and periodically update the required aeronautical knowledge to continue to operate a small UA in the NAS. To continue exercising the privileges of a remote pilot certificate, the certificate holder must pass a recurrent aeronautical knowledge test within 24 calendar-months of passing either an initial or recurrent aeronautical knowledge test. A part 61 pilot certificate holder who has completed a flight review within the previous 24 calendar-months may complete a recurrent online training course instead of taking the knowledge test.
FAA’s Discussion on Section 107.73 Initial and recurrent knowledge tests from the Final Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule
The FAA notes that weight and balance, weather, and preflight requirements will be tested under § 107.73. The FAA agrees with the commenter that technical topics such as principles of flight, aerodynamics, and electrical theory may enhance the knowledge and technical understanding of the remote pilot. However, these topics are not critical subject areas for safe operation of small UAS. The FAA includes many of these topics in the curriculum of part 61 knowledge testing because they are critical knowledge areas for persons operating an aircraft with passengers over populated areas that may need to respond to an emergency resulting from engine failure, unexpected weather, or onboard fire. Conversely, small UAS operations take place in a contained area in a light-weight aircraft that has no people onboard, so these topics are not applicable to the same extent as they are to a manned-aircraft operation. However, the remote pilot in command should familiarize him or herself with all of the necessary information to be able to fly the unmanned aircraft without causing damage to the aircraft.
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.
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