For many drone hobbyists, there is a noticeable and logical progression from flying drones as a hobby, to flying drones commercially for business purposes.
For those in the United States that are looking to become drone pilots and start flying their drones professionally as part of a business, we’ll be going over the six steps needed to do so, answer frequently asked questions some might have in this regard, as well as briefly touch on what is required to stay current after becoming a Commercial drone pilot.
To help, we’ve identified and reviewed the best drone courses for beginners and professionals.
Drone Pilots in the United States
In the United States, you must fly your drone under the FAA’s Small UAS Rule (Part 107) to be legally recognized as a commercial drone pilot.
A remote Pilot Certificate is required to be in compliance and must be carried at all times when flying commercially.
FAA’s Small UAS Rule (Part 107)
To acquire a remote pilot certification in the United States (commonly referred to as a drone license), you must pass the FAA’s Part 107 test, otherwise known as the aeronautical knowledge exam: “Unmanned Aircraft General – Small (UAG)”.
Per the FAA, as a drone pilot, a Part 107 certificate demonstrates that you understand the regulations, operating requirements, and procedures for safely flying drones.
While the process to acquire a remote pilot certification might seem daunting at first, if the testing preparation is treated like an actual course and if the time and effort are put into it, it is something you’ll be able to achieve, and possibly enjoy while doing so.
According to the FAA, to become a drone pilot you must:
- Be at least 16 years old
- Be able to read, speak, write, and understand English
- Be in a physical and mental condition to safely fly a drone
- Pass the initial aeronautical knowledge exam: “Unmanned Aircraft General – Small (UAG)”
Requirements for Remote Pilot Certificate:
- Must be easily accessible by the remote pilot during all UAS operations
- Certificate holders must complete a recurrent online training every 24 calendar months to maintain aeronautical knowledge recency
Does the FAA Part 107 test cost anything?
The price of the initial aeronautical knowledge test (Part 107), which is pretty much the same from knowledge testing centers to knowledge testing centers around the United States, is approximately $175.
Where can you take the Part 107 test?
The aeronautical knowledge exam: Unmanned Aircraft General – Small (UAG) needs to be taken at a local testing center.
Find an FAA – approved testing center nearest you.
Does the Part 107 Certificate Expire?
Certified Remote Pilots, are required to keep their aviation knowledge current. Every 24 calendar months (2 years), certified remote pilots must complete the Part 107 Small UAS Recurrent (ALC-677) online training course.
The good thing about this exam is that, at the time of the writing of this article, the test can be taken online and there is no longer a charge for the recurrent testing.
The test consists of 45 questions and you have to pass the exam with a 100% score.
This is actually fairly easy, as you are able to review the course materials while taking the test and you can correct any wrong answers within the 90-minute time limit.
Part 107 Courses and Classes
Although many current commercial drone pilots have done their own personal research and studies, likewise passing the Part 107 exam, there are equally, if not more individuals that turned to a Part 107 course to assist in passing the exam.
The top Drone and Part 107 courses we at Droneblog recommend are:
Likewise, we also recommend the following Beginner Drone Courses:
Is a paid-for Part 107 Course for me?
This all depends on what type of learner you may be.
Suppose you are someone that will pick up the FAA’s Remote Pilot – Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Study Guide (link) and/or the Airman Knowledge Testing Supplement for Remote (Drone) Pilot, read it, and understand it.
In that case, you might not need a course and can pass on your own.
For the rest of us visual learners, a Part 107 course may be beneficial. Why?
The top Part 107 drone courses have the following benefits in common:
- Lifetime membership access – course materials are updated as rules and regulations change
- In-depth, well-explained video lessons on all of the subjects covered in the FAA’s Part 107 test
- Practice questions and tests
- Cheat/Cram Sheets
- Money Back guarantees if the FAA test is not passed the first time
Keep in mind, however, that the paid classes have a range of pricing options.
Some are very budget-friendly and only include Part 107 testing information, while other classes are more expensive and include a vast array of drone-related subjects, Part 107 information, as well as classes on starting a drone business.
Again, deciding to either study on your own or purchase a drone pilot class boils down to:
- what type of learner you are
- what is your overall budget (for the exam and for classes)
The Process of Becoming a Drone Pilot (Step-by-Step)
With the information we have already touched on, as well as information provided directly by the FAA, we will go through the entire process needed to become a commercial drone pilot, step by step.
1. Obtain an FAA Tracking Number (FTN)
This is done by creating an Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) profile prior to registering for a knowledge test.
IACRA is a web-based certification/rating application that guides new drone pilots through the FAA’s airman application process.
IACRA is used to ensure applicants meet the FAA’s regulatory and policy requirements through the use of extensive data validation.
IACRA also uses electronic signatures to protect the information’s integrity, eliminates paper forms, and prints temporary certificates.
2. Schedule an appointment with a Testing Center
As mentioned prior, go to the FAA-approved Knowledge Testing Center site and schedule an appointment.
The test should be approximately $175.
To take the test, you’ll want to have available the following types of approved IDs:
- Driver permit or license issued by a U.S. state or territory
- U.S. Government identification card
- U.S. Military identification card
- Alien residency card
Most testing centers will provide the following:
- An FAA knowledge test supplement book
- Blank paper
- Transparent sheet
- Dry erase marker
Things to be aware of:
- Electronic devices are prohibited. These include smartphones and smartwatches. If you bring one, lockers are normally provided for you to store these items in.
- A standard calculator is allowed. Also, bring a ruler with you, as these may be required for some of the test questions.
- The test is 120 minutes long
- The minimum passing score is 70% which is a maximum of 18 questions wrong or a minimum of 42 questions right.
3. Pass the Aeronautical Knowledge Test: Unmanned Aircraft General – Small (UAG)
This can be done either by self-studying, as mentioned prior or with the help of an online Part 107 course.
4. Complete FAA Form 8710-13 for a remote pilot certificate
After you have passed the aeronautical knowledge exam, go to the electronic FAA Integrated Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application system (IACRA) and follow these steps (provided by the FAA):
- Login with the username and password you set up in the prior step
- Click on “Start New Application” and then
a) Application Type “Pilot“
b) Certifications “Remote Pilot“
c) Other Path Information
d) Start Application
- Follow the application prompts
- When prompted, enter the 17-digit Knowledge Test Exam ID. Be aware that it may take up to 48 hours from the test date for the knowledge test to appear in IACRA.
- Sign the application electronically and submit it for processing.
5. Print your temporary pilot certificate
A confirmation email will be sent when you have completed the TSA security background check.
The confirmation email will provide instructions for printing a copy of the temporary remote pilot certificate from IACRA.
6. Receive your permanent card
A permanent remote pilot certificate will be sent via postal mail once all other FAA-internal processing is complete.
Per the FAA, it takes about six to eight weeks to process and send an applicant’s permanent certificate. You can check the IACRA website to see the current processing and issue date.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Regarding becoming a commercial drone pilot and the benefits of doing so, we have compiled a list of the most common questions we get asked regularly.
These range from test related to business-related and everything in between.
What do Drone Pilots do?
For those new to the world of drones, drone pilots are responsible for remotely operating a drone (also known as an Unmanned Aerial System – UAS) in a safe manner to perform a variety of aerial-related tasks and operations, including but not limited to:
- Aerial photography and videography
- Cinematic shots for movies and television
- Powerline, cellular tower, and roof inspections
- Construction progression
Are Drone Pilots in demand?
This is a great question. And the answer is yes. Drone pilots are indeed in demand.
Drone-related research and marketing companies estimate an over 50 percent increase in demand over the next 5 years.
Many other resources are predicting the global commercial drone market to grow from 10.98 billion USD in 2023 to 54.81 billion USD by 2030.
This means that both public and private companies are regularly looking for drone pilots to fill various positions.
These positions will only grow in number over the coming few years as the demand for drone-related services increases.
Some of the popular industries for drone pilots are:
- Power & Utility
- Real Estate
- Search and Rescue
Do Drone Pilots make good money?
Drone pilots can make very good money, whether working as self-employed freelancers or for a company offering drone-related services.
Depending on the company, the requirements, the complexity of the job, and the drone pilots’ experience, in the US the middle ground for drone salaries is around $75,000 – $80,000 USD.
If working for the government, the salaries are quite a bit less, oftentimes falling into the low $40,000 USD range, with freelancers being able to make substantially more than $100,000 USD, depending on their areas of expertise.
How do I start a career in drones?
Whether you are planning on being a self-employed drone pilot or working for an established company, it is recommended to start your career out being a freelance drone pilot, as this will help gain all of the necessary knowledge and experience needed to be a professional drone pilot.
After you have worked “for yourself” for a while, seeking employment with a company as a drone pilot under their umbrella will be easier, as you’ll have the needed skills and experience.
If you are interested in starting your own freelance drone operation, the following information/steps have been used, either wholly or in part, by some of our own staff to start and build their drone services companies.
Is the Part 107 test hard?
For some the test is very easy, for others, it is moderately hard, and still others find the test to be extremely hard. The difficulty of the test partially depends on what type of learner you are, how you approach studying for the test, and how much time is done doing so.
We suggest studying for the Part 107 test like it is a college course, a course that helps you build your business.
To get an idea of the complexity of the test, below are some of the subjects and topics that the exam covers, as directly stated by the FAA:
- Applicable regulations relating to small unmanned aircraft system rating privileges, limitations, and flight operation
- Airspace classification and operating requirements, and flight restrictions affecting small unmanned aircraft operation
- Aviation weather sources and effects of weather on small unmanned aircraft performance
- Small unmanned aircraft loading and performance
- Emergency procedures
- Crew resource management
- Radio communication procedures
- Determining the performance of small unmanned aircraft
- Physiological effects of drugs and alcohol
- Aeronautical decision-making and judgment
- Airport operations
- Maintenance and preflight inspection procedures
- Operation at night
How long does it take to become a Drone Pilot?
The length of time it takes to study for then pass the Part 107 exam and become a commercial drone pilot varies from individual to individual and is totally dependent on the person looking to become a drone pilot.
The actual exam is only 2 hours long. There are many online who have claimed to watch a 2 or 3-hour YouTube video and then immediately pass the test.
If you are one of the aforementioned individuals, you could theoretically study for and pass the exam and become a drone pilot in a matter of hours.
Realistically, it could take a couple of weeks to go through the entire process of taking a class, studying for the exam using the class’s test quizzes, and then subsequently passing the Part 107 exam.
How long is Drone Pilot School?
Because drone schools vary in the manner course materials are handled, the length of time it takes to get through these schools also varies.
Using Pilot Institute as an example, when taking their Part 107 course, I took a couple of weeks to go through the 200+ video courses supplied by Pilot Institute.
Pilot Institute likewise has a 14-day challenge where you can challenge yourself (using 1 hour a day) to complete the entire course in 2 weeks.
Again, the amount of time it takes to go through the Part 107 course for any Drone Pilot School depends wholly on the student.
All courses offered by Pilot Institute are taught by remote pilots, flight instructors, FAA commercial pilots, and other certified professionals.
Is becoming a Drone Pilot worth it?
For many of those that have started drone businesses from scratch, becoming a commercial drone pilot is a satisfying and oftentimes lucrative experience, one very much worth the effort put into becoming a drone pilot.
If you are a creative person, who either loves the aviation, photography, videography, or construction fields, becoming a commercial drone pilot may be the perfect job for you.
As with many businesses and careers, you get back what you put into the business.
If you take the time and effort to really hone your piloting skills, “get out there” and really promote your business, becoming a drone pilot can really be worth it.
Starting a Drone Business (Guide)
1. Learn how to really fly a drone.
While this might be self-explanatory, we are emphasizing the need to be completely familiar with flying, not only frontwards but also backward, and when the drone is facing you, as yaw and sideways flight controls are reversed.
By being familiar with the controls of a drone in all flight orientations, a drone operator is not only able to perform complex maneuvers but is also able to quickly act to avoid dangerous situations.
2. Study for and pass the Part 107 exam
As we’ve seen earlier in this article, a part 107 certificate (commonly referred to as a drone pilot license) is required by the US government for commercial operators.
If you are flying for the furtherance of business, then you are commercial. We suggest studying for the Part 107 exam like doing so for a college course.
3. Build a portfolio
Building a portfolio is an essential step. If no one can see what you do, no one will hire you.
For instance, if you are looking to do Real Estate photography, find a friend with a well-staged home or use your own home, if it shows nicely, and photograph that.
Many first-timers also do well offering free photo sessions for potential clients, to build their portfolio.
Once you have done a few shoots, repeat the process to build a portfolio. This same process applies to any area you are planning to get into with drones.
4. Create your Logo/Brand
Fiverr is a great place to find freelance graphics design artists that will do an incredible job making logos. Of course, you might have local designers that can do the work for you.
Regardless of where you find your graphic designer, it is advised to look for one that has a rating of at least 4.5 stars.
5. Create a Gmail account for your business name
Try to create a Gmail account that clearly shows your new business name, such as email@example.com.
When the account is created, use your new logo as your email profile picture.
6. Start your Social Media Accounts
Use your new business email to set up Social Media accounts, such as Facebook and Instagram.
Once you have a Facebook and Instagram account fill them with your portfolio pics, remembering to use your new logo to brand yourself.
7. Create a simple website
GoDaddy and Wix, just to mention a few, are excellent starter sites for new businesses.
8. Acquire Business Cards
Purchase business cards, with your new logo on them.
There are also NFC-enabled business cards available for those that would rather use tap-and-go to share their contact information.
With the pictures from your portfolio, create flyers that highlight your work and distribute these, in person, to the companies that would benefit from your services.
Although emailing local businesses can be done, many businesses respond better to in-person meetings.
Getting your face and brand out there personally can go a long way, as opposed to an email that might get forwarded to the Spam folder.
10. Join your local Chamber of Commerce
Joining the local Chamber of Commerce will allow you to get needed face time with local companies that could benefit from your services.
Chamber of Commerce memberships are a great way to build a network of services.
Just be aware that joining a local Chamber of Commerce may incur some expense, as many have membership fees. Depending on your city, these fees can be very expensive.
11. Setup a Google Business Page
After you have gotten everything in place, you’ll also want a Google Business page.
Google business pages connect local businesses with you, offer reviews, and are a means for free advertising as well.