Are you looking into flying drones for fun? Are you wondering how to make a little money as a side-hustle? Are you pursuing full-time work as a drone operator? If your intent is for anything other than purely recreational flying for fun, you will need to get a drone license.
This guide covers all the steps you need to know to get a drone license.
There are several steps to acquiring your license to fly drones commercially. The process is somewhat involved but not all that difficult if you apply yourself and follow through on these steps:
- Determine if you need a license
- Learn the Part 107 rules and guidelines
- Obtain your license
- Life after getting licensed
Do you even need a license to fly drones?
Due to the popularity and availability of high-tech drones for the consumer market and the vast number of drone pilots operating them for different uses, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) established the rules for commercial drone operations in 2016.
These guidelines, known as Part 107, were created to ensure safe operating practices and sharing of airspace among drone operators on the ground and manned-flight pilots and crews.
For the casual consumer who enjoys flying at the park or just around the house for fun, the FAA Part 107 guidelines do not require a full certification or license.
Recreational flyers need to understand a basic set of guidelines for general safety.
Only recently, the FAA created a program called The Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST), which is a set of common sense and practical guidelines for recreational drone operations.
The TRUST guidelines and short test will provide you with the basic knowledge necessary to fly your drone for fun. If you only want to take family photos and videos on vacation, this is what you need.
If you only want to fly around your local park or neighborhood, these TRUST guidelines will help you safely share the sky around you and with others.
The FAA states that if your intent when flying your drone is purely recreational, you need only review the TRUST guidelines and pass their short quiz. If this is your intent, you could have your TRUST certification in just a couple of hours.
In addition to taking the TRUST test, if your drone weighs over 0.55 pounds, you will need to register the aircraft with the FAA. At first, this may sound a little intimidating, but the FAA makes all of this easy to do.
Visit the FAA Drone Zone website and follow a few steps to complete the process. Registering your drone costs just $5.
Registering your drone gets you an identification number that is valid for the life of your drone. This number could also be helpful in the future for identifying your drone in case of an incident.
If your intent for flying drones is anything other than recreational, you will need to follow the rest of the steps outlined in this guide.
How much time will it take to get a license?
The answer to this question is dependent on how quickly you want or need to start flying drones under the Part 107 guidelines, meaning flying for commercial purposes.
I’ve read accounts of some pilots already familiar with FAA airspace rules and regulations, passing the Part 107 Exam with very little study time.
If you’re learning from scratch, with no prior experience or subject knowledge, you may find it takes a little time to understand some of the concepts.
Not to worry, there are a lot of helpful resources available to help you plan your journey to becoming a certified drone pilot. Some of these resources have even created a plan to complete the process in as little as two weeks.
Getting your Part 107 license consists of a few steps:
- Create a plan to learn the material.
- Learn, study, and become comfortable with the Part 107 guidelines.
- Schedule your exam at a certified location.
- Take and pass the exam.
- Submit your application for approval.
- Get your license!
Creating a plan to learn the material can seem like the most challenging part of this process. There are a lot of helpful resources available.
You can find several articles we’ve written that cover the most recommended courses and online resources available. Most of these resources offer structured learning for affordable pricing with money-back guarantees.
A two-week program is commonly available for learning and preparing for the Part 107 exam. These programs consist of watching video lessons covering the most prominent rules and regulations found on the FAA Part 107 exam.
In just an hour or two a day, you could complete the courses, take a few practice exams, and be ready to pass your Part 107 exam.
Learning the FAA Part 107 materials
Courses from credible programs and schools online are affordable and provide structured content specifically delivered to help you understand and retain the information.
Part 107 prep courses generally cost between $100-$200 and include additional benefits.
Some added benefits are lessons on starting your own drone business, aerial photography and videography guides, deep-dive reviews about your specific drone, and lifetime access to the content.
If you prefer to do it yourself, you could structure your learning directly by reading the FAA book of rules and regulations. This book is very comprehensive and will cover a lot of material you may not need, but is the authoritative source for pilots.
There are also a few decent videos or series available on YouTube or elsewhere online that can help you study. You may want to use a variety of videos, blogs, and other sources to help you prepare.
There are also free practice exams available from the FAA to help you feel confident about taking and passing your exam.
Learning the Part 107 rules and guidelines
The FAA Part 107 materials consist of rules and regulations for operating in United States airspace. These rules are available to help you understand how other aircraft operate in the same airspace.
You will learn how manned aircraft operate around airports and restrictions on who can fly in and around airports.
You will also become familiar with how to read airspace maps and determine if you need special permission to operate in an area of controlled airspace.
You will also learn how to read and understand pilot notifications from air traffic control towers. These announcements contain special notices of temporary restrictions, known as NOTAMs.
These notices may impact your flight plans due to circumstances the FAA deems a higher priority.
You may take on a job inspecting cell tower equipment close to an airport and will require some coordination with the air traffic control tower. The job may require you to fly within controlled airspace.
You will learn how to work with the local air traffic control tower to obtain approval for those flights.
The FAA Part 107 exam will also test your knowledge of weather patterns, which is very useful as a pilot. Understanding the signs of approaching weather systems like precipitation, thunderstorms, and high winds is imperative to the safe operation of your drone.
Drones can withstand some amount of wind and weather variables, but knowing what those limitations are is the only way to fly safely.
Similarly, the Part 107 course materials will help you better understand how your drone flys and the fundamental aerodynamics behind its operations. This information will also make you a more effective pilot when overcoming technical issues or challenging flight scenarios.
The ultimate goal of the FAA Part 107 exam is to ensure that you are ready and able to practice solid aeronautical decision-making or ADM.
All pilots learn ADM through studies essential to piloting aircraft of all types and putting that knowledge to practice through hours of flying.
Scheduling your Part 107 exam
Something you will want to consider at the same time is when you want to take the FAA Part 107 exam. Exams can be taken at certified testing centers located all over the US and typically within an hour’s drive from most locations.
Scheduling the exam is easy to do and will cost $175.
You should ensure that you feel confident in passing the exam with a score of 70% or higher. Failure to pass with a score of 70% or more means you will have to pay to retake the exam at a future date.
Most of the training courses available online offer a guarantee that you will pass the exam or reimburse your course fee. Some will even reimburse you for your Part 107 exam fee if you score less than 70%.
With these kinds of guarantees, you can feel good about learning the material if you follow the course plan.
One approach is to schedule your exam for the week after you plan to complete the course you are taking. In this scenario, you could feasibly learn all the Part 107 rules and guidelines, take a few practice exams, and pass your actual exam within three weeks.
When you take and pass your exam, you receive immediate confirmation and a letter of completion from the test center. This Airman Certificate letter effectively is your license to fly drones under the Part 107 rules.
Taking and passing the Part 107 exam
FAA Part 107 exams are available at certified test centers and have some basic guidelines that you will follow.
Exams are pre-scheduled at a specific date and time. Schedule a date and time that gives you plenty of time to finish your preparation without rushing through it.
Plan to arrive 10-15 minutes early and check in with someone at the testing center.
You will likely have all the knowledge you need to pass the exam.
The testing center will also provide a copy of the Airman Knowledge Testing Supplement. This handbook contains example airspace maps, diagrams, and concepts all pilots should know and understand.
Many courses recommend obtaining a copy of this handbook as a study guide.
Your testing center will provide you with a pencil or pen, paper to write on, and a calculator.
You can also bring a magnifying glass if you need help reading the airspace maps in the handbook. Otherwise, do not bring any other materials with you on test day.
The exam consists of 60 multiple choice and true or false questions that cover all concepts from the Part 107 regulations. Some of the questions will require you to refer to the supplemental handbook.
You will have two hours to complete the exam.
The computer-based exam allows you to go back and revisit questions you may have skipped, so make sure you complete the entire test.
Within just a few minutes of completing your exam, your instructor will inform you of your score and provide you with your test results. This document is what you need to complete your Part 107 application.
Get your license!
Your letter of completion will have your passing score printed on it. It will also have codes identifying any Part 107 rules that you may have missed so you can review those areas afterward.
You will also use this letter to complete your application to the FAA Part 107 for your license, an actual plastic card with your pilot information printed on it.
When you submit your passing exam documentation, you will receive a temporary airman certificate, which you can use to begin flying drones for commercial purposes.
You should have this letter (or your license) and proof of your drone registration on hand when flying.
Law enforcement officials can and may ask for your documentation if they need to approach you for some reason. Having a paper or digital copy of your documentation is highly recommended when flying.
Also, always have your license available to show.
Receiving your license in the mail can take a few weeks or more, depending on how busy the FAA is with other certifications. Once your application is submitted, you can check its approval status on the same website.
The great news is that your FAA Part 107 certification is good for life once you receive it. However, the FAA does require you to renew your certification every 24 months to ensure your knowledge is still fresh.
The benefit of lifetime access to learning materials pays off if you choose to go with a credible course or training program online, just for having access to updated information.
Every 24 months, you will need to take an online course provided by the FAA. As of April 2021, the recurrent course requirement is easy to complete and takes less than 2 hours.
Plan to set aside a couple of hours before your test date on your license to ensure you have the most up-to-date knowledge. Doing so will minimize possibly interrupting your business and keep you operating your drone commercially.
What else do you need to know?
For many licensed drone pilots, getting your card in the mail and registering your drone is all that’s needed. But, to operate commercially in some instances, you may need to consider a few more things.
You will want to understand the laws and regulations that govern drone operations in your specific state.
Some states have strict rules on where you can fly your drone. Other states have an additional certification you will need to obtain, like in North Carolina, to operate your drone for business purposes.
Operating a drone for business purposes may also require a business license or registration with your Department of Revenue. It is particularly true if you are directly receiving income from your drone photography or videography as a service.
Check with your state’s Secretary of State or Department of Revenue for your specific business case.
You may also want or need to consider drone liability insurance coverage to protect you from accidents that may occur involving your drone.
Many businesses support drone pilots by providing their services on a freelance basis. These companies often require minimum liability coverage to include you in their pilot network.
These networks may also require a minimum number of flight hours as experience.
There is no shortage of resources available online to find the answer to any of these and other questions. Do as much research as possible to ensure that you operate safely as per local and federal rules and regulations.
Keep in mind that you are sharing the sky with others. Their safety is as important as your own.