If you've been in the drone community for any length of time, you've probably heard about the Part 107 certification. You likely have a lot of questions about what this certification is, how to get it, and what it does for you.
The FAA Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate is a special license that drone pilots can get that permits the commercial use of drones. In other words, the FAA Remote Pilot Certificate lets drone pilots use drones in furtherance of a business.
Simply put, anyone that uses a drone in support of a business in any way is required by the FAA to have a Part 107 certification.
If this sounds confusing, don't worry. We'll provide an in-depth view of the entire FAA Part 107 process.
Who Needs a Part 107 License?
For starters, we'll talk about who all needs a Part 107 license. Anyone that uses a drone in furtherance of a business needs the Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate. The best way to understand what this means is to look at some examples.
You need a Remote Pilot Certificate if you want to directly earn money with your drone as a freelancer. This is the most straightforward scenario in which a Part 107 license is required. Freelance drone pilots that directly sell drone services fall under this category. If you sell services like drone roof inspections, aerial photography, drone marketing, mapping and modeling, or anything similar, you need the Part 107 license.
Related Post: Click here to learn how to start your freelance drone business.
You need a Remote Pilot Certificate if you want to use a drone within a business for operational or advertising purposes. In other words, this category covers the use of drones in furtherance of a business in a way that doesn't directly earn money per se. As drones have gained popularity over the years, many different kinds of businesses have implemented them to make their operations cheaper, safer, and more efficient. Let's look at some examples:
- A realtor that uses a drone to take aerial photos for their online listings must have a Part 107 certification. This scenario doesn't consist of the direct selling of drone services for income, but this individual is still using a drone in furtherance of a business.
- A roofing company that uses drones for roof inspections must have Part 107 licensed drone operators. While it might seem petty and insignificant to simply use drones to inspect roofs, that drone application still constitutes the furtherance of a business.
- A car dealership owner that uses a drone to take photos and video footage for an advertisement must have a Part 107 certification. Since the drone is being used to advertise for a business, it's considered commercial use.
When it comes to indirect drone usage, most businesses either a) don't know that the Part 107 license exists or b) don't think the license is required to simply use drones within their own business. However, anyone that uses a drone for these kinds of applications is required to have a Remote Pilot Certificate.
Drone pilots that operate commercially without a Remote Pilot Certificate can actually be fined over $1,000 by the FAA for each infraction. Additionally, whoever hires an unlicensed drone operator can be fined over $10,000.
The biggest step in the process of getting a Remote Pilot Certificate is scheduling and taking the knowledge test. We'll walk you through each step in this process.
Scheduling the Test
To schedule the test, go to the CATS website, select your location, and choose “Unmanned Aircraft – Small” from the dropdown menu. Click “Locate a Test Center,” and choose your preferred testing location from the list. There are hundreds of locations across the country, so you should be able to find one relatively close to where you live.
Once you've done this, call the phone number at the top of the page to schedule the time and date of your exam. The cost to take the test is $150, and you can pay this fee over the phone when you schedule your appointment.
You typically won't need to schedule the exam very far out. In most cases, a day or so of notice is sufficient. However, if you haven't started studying yet, I recommend scheduling the test 2-3 weeks out so you have plenty of time to study and learn the material covered.
The test consists of 60 multiple choice questions with 3 answer choices per question. To pass the test, you just need to get 42 (or 70%) of the 60 questions correct. The test is on a computer, and you can skip questions and come back to them at any time. You have 2 hours to complete it, which is more than enough time to take the test and review your answers. Ultimately, the way the test is set up is very advantageous. The test isn't designed to make people fail; the FAA just wants to make sure that test-takers are familiar with the concepts.
You'll be given a book that has the figures and graphics you'll need to reference during the test. You can also use a pen/pencil, scratch paper, and a 4 function calculator. But don't be intimidated by the math — most people that take the test don't even use the calculator.
As with all multiple-choice tests, using the process of elimination on this test is a great strategy. On most questions, there will be one answer choice that's obviously incorrect. Since each question only has 3 answer choices, this helps tremendously.
Another good strategy is to skip the difficult questions that you can't answer immediately. Go ahead and answer all of the simple questions that you know the answer to, then go back to the tougher ones you skipped.
Another tip is to always air on the safe side. What I mean by that is, when asked a question about a potentially hazardous situation, always choose the safest answer — the answer that suggests the safest possible course of action.
Studying for the test is very important. The test does cover some challenging concepts, most of which generally aren't common knowledge, especially if you don't have an aviation background. However, with a bit of studying, these concepts will begin to make more sense, and you'll be able to go into the test with confidence.
A lot of the material covered on the test will seem like it doesn't apply to drone operation, and this is mostly true. Most of the tested topics are more applicable to manned aircraft aviation.
The general consensus is that the FAA wants all commercial drone operators (and all drone operators, for that matter) to have an appreciation for a) aviation in general and b) what pilots of manned aircraft have to be proficient at. The FAA's thought process is that the more information that drone pilots know about aviation in general, the safer the skies will be.
A substantial portion of the test deals with sectional charts. Sectional charts are the big maps that pilots use to navigate when flying.
When you get questions about sectional charts, you'll likely be asked to identify the airspace classification in a particular area, whether or not you can fly in that airspace, or the elevation of a tower or other structure.
These charts can seem extremely overwhelming at first. The circles, colors, and symbols will look like a big, jumbled mess. The good news is that you'll be given a legend you can reference for questions about sectional charts, so you don't necessarily need to memorize what every symbol and color means.
The FAA doesn't necessarily want you to be an expert with these charts. They just want you to be able to decipher them on a fairly basic level so that you'll have situational awareness when you fly in different areas for commercial purposes.
Weather is a big theme on the test. You'll probably be asked questions about specific weather terminology. Some of the most common weather questions cover temperature inversions, types of air and their characteristics, density altitude, and the life cycle of a thunderstorm.
While most of the weather concepts don't directly apply to the typical drone flight, things like wind shear, updrafts, downdrafts, and katabatic wind can pose a risk to drone operations, so some of these concepts are actually helpful to know.
Ultimately, the FAA just wants you to be able to identify how these weather factors affect drone operations.
Reading Aviation Weather Reports
Being able to read a METAR (Meteorological Terminal Aviation Routine Weather Report) and a TAF (Terminal Aerodrome Forecast) is crucial for the test. You'll definitely be asked to decipher one of these reports.
These reports look confusing, but their purpose is simply to inform pilots about weather conditions in a particular area.
Learning the format of these reports is extremely overwhelming at first. Just keep practicing, and eventually, you'll be able to interpret them with confidence.
Another topic the test covers is basic flight physics. The main concepts you should be familiar with are center of gravity and load factor. The FAA wants you to be familiar with how different forces affect drone flight. For example, some questions might ask how a drone's flight attitude will be affected if the center of gravity is moved forward or backward.
This is another topic that might seem like it isn't applicable to drone operations. However, these principles are actually important for drone pilots to know.
For example, it's important to know that, when you make a hard banking turn with your drone, it'll lose altitude if no left stick input is made due to the increased load on the props.
Additionally, it's important to know how your drone will be affected if the center of gravity is changed when carrying a payload.
Risk management and mitigation is perhaps the biggest topic the test covers. In my experience, most of the test actually consisted of these questions. The good thing about these questions is that the right answer is generally common sense.
The best strategy when answering these questions is to always pick the safest option. In fact, you'll probably be asked similar safety-related questions that are just worded differently, which is advantageous as the test taker. The FAA just wants assurance that you can identify potential hazards and operate safely at all times. If you keep that in mind, you should get all of these questions correct.
These kinds of safety procedures and considerations are directly applicable to drone operations. A lot can go wrong when flying drones, so it's important to be able to recognize these things.
FAA Rules and Regulations
The FAA also wants Part 107 pilots to be well versed in the rules and regulations. The good thing about this topic is that the rules and regulations are fairly easy to memorize.
I recommend memorizing the rules, especially the ones that deal with different times and numbers.
If you're being asked if a particular flight is allowed given a set of circumstances, the answer will likely be “no” most of the time. The FAA wants to make sure you understand the rules, and in their view, the best way to do that is to give you a scenario that violates their regulations and have you recognize the potential rule violation.
Here's a list of some rules and regulations to be familiar with.
Getting the Results
You'll know your score immediately after you finish the test. A staff member at the testing center will then fax your information to the FAA, and they'll give you a document that outlines the next steps to take.
The next steps will all be done on the Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA).
You can then start filling out an application on IACRA for your Remote Pilot Certificate. However, it'll take a few days for the FAA to update their system with your test score. Once they do so, you can submit your application for the license.
A week or so after you submit the application, if approved, you'll be able to download a temporary certificate from IACRA. This certificate will be valid for 120 days. The real license will arrive in the mail 4-6 weeks later.
If you fail the test, you'll have to wait 2 weeks before you can take it again.
Registering Your Drone
Once you've been issued a Remote Pilot Certificate, you'll need to go online to register your aircraft under Part 107 with the FAA. If you've previously registered your drone as a recreational aircraft, you still need to do this. The FAA actually differentiates between drones that are registered as recreational and commercial. The fee to register is $5.
If you've already registered your drone as a recreational aircraft, you'll still need to register it as one being used for commercial purposes. The FAA actually differentiates between recreational and commercial drones.
After you register your drone, you'll be given a registration number. The FAA requires you to mark the exterior of your aircraft with that number. A simple label maker is a quick and clean way to do this.
Renewing the License
The Remote Pilot Certificate must be renewed every 2 years. The process to renew the certification is almost the same as the process to get it initially. You'll have to take the knowledge test again, but there will be an option on IACRA to simply renew the license rather than apply for a new one.
It's a good idea to start the renew process a few weeks before the expiration date of the current one so that you can have your new license in hand when the original one expires.
Luckily, there are a plethora of online resources available to you to help prepare for the knowledge test. There are even a few companies that make some great online courses that can help you prepare for the test.
There are several well-known Part 107 courses and study guides online. Drone Pilot Ground School, Drone Launch Academy, and Remote Pilot 101 are among the best. These courses all have great curriculums that have helped tens of thousands of drone pilots pass the knowledge test over the last few years.
Some online course providers are so confident in their curriculum that they even offer to pay the $150 fee of a makeup exam in the event that you fail the first time.
Free Study Guides and Resources
While these guides undoubtedly do a great job preparing drone pilots for the test, they're somewhat pricey. Spending a lot of money to prepare for this test isn't necessary. There are a few really helpful online guides that are completely free.
This YouTube video study guide by Tony Northrup is an excellent resource to reference when you first start to study. He breaks down the topics on the test in a way that's simple and easy to understand. This video covers a lot of the numbers and rules that'll likely appear on the test.
This practice test is another great resource to help you prepare for the real exam. This resource is particularly helpful because it has 130 practice questions that cover all of the content you'll see on the test. Going through this test will give you a good idea of how you'll perform on the real test. This video goes over the answer to each question on this practice test, so it's a great supplementary resource.
This study guide is directly from the FAA. It's a little more dry and lengthy, but it's still a great resource to peruse before taking the test. After all, the test is written by the FAA, so it will help to become familiar with their specific material.
This Quizlet is another helpful resource to look at when studying for the test. It focuses specifically on weather terms that are likely to show up on the test. If you become familiar with this terminology, the questions pertaining to weather on the test shouldn't trip you up.
Remote Pilot 101 has a YouTube channel with a lot of free informational content regarding airspace and drone regulations. This channel is a great resource to reference when studying, especially to get a better understanding of the different classifications of airspace.
As you get more familiar with the topics on the test, you can always do your own additional online research and studying. In fact, I highly recommend doing this to clear up any confusion you might have about some of the concepts.
When preparing for the exam, all of the resources I used were free, and I passed with an 88%.
Rules for Commercial Pilots
Once you receive your Remote Pilot Certificate, you'll fly under the Part 107 rules. Be sure to read up on these rules to become familiar with them.
As a Part 107 certified pilot, more will be expected of you. You'll have a special license that sets you apart from hobbyist fliers. The expectation will be that you understand where you can fly and that you recognize and mitigate potential risks. Always fly responsibly.
Benefits of the Part 107 Certification
As you can see, the process of getting a Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate is somewhat lengthy. While it might seem like a pain to go through this whole process, it's actually beneficial for several reasons if you go through with it.
Ability to Make Money with a Drone
The most obvious benefit of the Remote Pilot Certificate is that it allows you to freely make money using a drone. For a fee of $150, the Part 107 certification gives you the ability to turn a fun hobby into a profession and join a booming industry with a bright future.
Protection from Unlicensed Competition
The Part 107 process creates a legitimate space for commercial drone use. In other words, the FAA's Part 107 certification process actually serves to protect commercial pilots because it prohibits non-licensed drone pilots from making money with their drone.
Many drone pilots without a Part 107 certification still operate in the commercial drone space, but the FAA does levy fines against these pilots. Throughout this process it might seem like the FAA doesn't want you to get the license, but in reality, they're working to carve out a professional drone space that protects you from fly-by-night drone pilots stealing your business without having gone through the certification process.
The Remote Pilot Certificate also gives commercial drone pilots more professional credibility. While the Part 107 license doesn't necessarily mean that the license holder is more skilled at actually operating a drone than a hobbyist per se, it assures clients that you understand the rules and that you obey them. In other words, the Remote Pilot Certificate literally makes you a drone professional.
The FAA Part 107 certification process takes some time, but it's definitely a good investment. The Remote Pilot Certificate will give you more credibility as a drone pilot, and it'll allow you to make a living doing a fun hobby.
Be sure to give yourself enough time to study and become familiar with the topics covered on the test. With 10-20 hours of dedicated studying, you'll be more than prepared to pass the test and become a Part 107 licensed pilot.