If you’ve spent much time with a drone, or researching drones, or hanging out with people who fly drones, you’ve probably come across the Part 107 license, or even considered getting one yourself. But before you jump on the bandwagon and start studying for your Part 107 test, it’s worth your time to find out first what you’re in for, and what exactly a Part 107 license can do for you.
In the most basic terms, a Part 107 License allows you to earn money with your drone. Anyone wanting to sell aerial photography, monitor their farming operations with a drone, or do any other business related work with a drone must have a Part 107 license.
The FAA Part 107 is a set of rules for operating drones for commercial purposes, or in other words, for any sort of monetary gain, direct or indirect. Anyone who intends to fly a drone for commercial purposes or financial gain needs to abide by the Part 107 rules, which includes getting a Remote Pilot Certification, popularly termed a Part 107 license.
If you’re wondering whether you need to get a Part 107 license, there are a few things to consider before you do. While having a drone license will allow you to legally make money with your drone, there are a few restrictions that come with having a license that you should be aware of first.
Things you can do with a drone license that you can’t do without it
Having a Remote Pilot Certificate really opens up the possibilities for you with how you can use your drone. The biggest option of course being that you can legally fly your drone to earn some money. Aside from that, as a licensed drone pilot, you have the ability to do a few things that a recreational flyer cannot do, but you also face more restrictions in some cases.
Regardless of whether you’re a hobbyist or a professional drone pilot, everyone flying a drone has to follow some of the same basic rules:
- Drones weighing between 0.55 lbs and 55 lbs must be registered with the FAA
- Drone must weigh less than 55 lbs, including payload
- Only fly in Class G airspace, (or apply for airspace authorization using LAANC)
- Keep the drone within your visual line of sight at all times, or use a visual observer
- Fly below 400 feet above ground level (higher if your drone remains within 400 feet of a structure)
- Yield right of way to manned aircraft
- Control only one drone at a time
- Do NOT fly over people or moving vehicles
- Do NOT operate the drone from a moving vehicle (unless flying over a sparsely populated area)
Things diverge slightly in the rules for licensed pilots vs. recreational flyers. Here are some of the things you can do, and some of the things you can’t do with a Part 107 license.
- Earn money with your drone, drone photos and videos, and any other drone related activities
- Fly within 5 miles of an airport without notifying the ATC, as long as it’s within Class G airspace
- Must not exceed 100 mph in-flight speed
- Cannot fly at night (between 30 minutes after sunset to 30 minutes until sunrise)
- Remain 500 feet below and 2,000 feet horizontally away from clouds
- Have three or more miles of visibility
- Report to the FAA any incident that results in serious injury, loss of consciousness, or property damage of $500 or more. This report can be filed via FAADroneZone.
- Make your drone available to the FAA for inspection or testing on request, and you must provide any associated records required to be kept under the rule.
Hold it, you might be saying. That list of permissions looks pretty thin, and the restrictions look like they’re adding up. Before it starts to feel like having a Part 107 license is all restrictions and not so many benefits, let’s add a little nuance to this.
For nearly all of the restrictions put upon commercial drone operations, it’s possible to apply for a waiver from the FAA. There is no waiver system for hobbyists, so if you don’t have a drone license, you can’t apply for a waiver. The one exception to the waiver system on the list of restrictions for all drone pilots is the ability to apply for airspace authorization on LAANC – this process is the same for hobbyists and professional drone pilots, so both hobbyists and professionals can apply for access to restricted airspace.
But for the ability to fly more than 400 feet AGL, fly beyond visual line of sight, control more than one drone at a time, fly without a visual observer, fly over people or vehicles, or fly from a moving vehicle – this is reserved for professional drone pilots that have a waiver from the FAA. You can apply for a Part 107 waiver for a specific restriction on the FAA’s DroneZone.
Even for the special restrictions that are placed upon Certificated Remote Pilots, there is room to apply for waivers. So if you have special circumstances that require you to fly faster than 100 mph, fly at night, fly close to cloud cover, or fly with limited visibility, you can get permission to do these things through the waiver process from the FAA. Granted, the waiver process can be a little bit daunting and time-consuming, but you don’t have to be resigned to the stated limitations – there’s room to maneuver.
Fly as a Hobbyist or a Professional – but not at the same time
Something that’s helpful to keep in mind is that you’re not locked in to the restrictions of a Part 107 pilot the minute you get your license. If you are a Part 107 certificated drone pilot, you still have the ability to fly your drone as a hobbyist, under the hobbyist list of regulations. Where this gets tricky, is that you can’t be both at the same time. You have to decide before you take off what the purpose of your flight is.
For example, if you decide to go out for a recreational flight after dark just to snap some pictures of a family event, and you happen to get some other great shots while you’re up in the air, you can’t turn around and sell those photos, if you don’t also have a night operations waiver. Because you were flying at night as a hobbyist, the photos you took under those conditions can’t be used to make money.
To turn it around though, if you have your Part 107 license, which would enable you to fly within 5 miles of an airport in Class G airspace, you can fly there any time, whether your intended purpose for any given flight is business or recreation.
Money-Making Opportunities for Licensed Drone Pilots
The bottom line though for getting your drone license to operate under Part 107 is primarily motivated by monetary reasons. If you want to earn money any way, shape or form with your drone, you MUST have a Remote Pilot Certificate. Once you have your license, there are countless ways to use your drone to earn money, whether it’s just a few dollars here and there to help fund your hobby, a full time job, or anything in between.
Here are a few of the types of ways you can earn money with your drone once you have a Part 107 license.
If you’re a professional photographer already, it’s pretty easy to transfer your skills and your existing marketing scheme to selling aerial photography. But selling drone photos isn’t limited to those who are already expert photographers. With a little bit of practice and a decent drone, you can get some pretty stunning aerial perspectives. For some great ideas on developing your skills, read our article on how to improve your drone photography.
You can sell your photos on your own website, or for some low-level passive income, you can sell your photography on a stock photo site such as Shutterstock, iStock/Getty, Alamy, or Adobe Stock. Or you can fly a drone for hire, and shoot events such as weddings, family gatherings, and more.
If you want to take your drone photography business past a side-gig to a full-time income level, you’re probably going to need to invest some serious time into developing your drone photography skills. One great way to do this is to learn from the experts and sign up for a course on drone photography. You can see our recommended courses here.
Post videos to a monetized social media account
This one has been a little controversial, but it’s true, if you want to put drone videos on your YouTube channel, or drone photos on Instagram, and you have the monetization switched on, you must have a drone license. For a more in-depth discussion of this topic, read our article here.
It’s a great way to earn money with your drone footage though. With a successful YouTube channel or other similar social media accounts, drone photos and videos add a lot of interest. Especially if you’re appealing to the drone crowd, you will gain credibility and viewership with some great footage. But even if your focus is on some other topic (travel, real estate, etc.), drone photos and videos are a great way to add interest and boost your audience.
Keep an eye on your business or farm
If you’re in construction, for example, you may want to use a drone to monitor the progress of the worksite. In this case you’re not selling anything, product or service, with your drone, but you’re using it in a way that is related to the operation of your business. It’s not directly a way to make money with a drone, but this is another instance where a drone license is definitely required.
The same goes for using a drone to monitor your farm fields or livestock. Drones have incredible potential to help growers and farmers see where the problem areas are and address them with precision.
Drones are great at getting to places where it’s not safe or easy to send a person, like roofs for instance. With the right skillset and experience, you can fly a drone to do roof inspections for residential or commercial properties. Drone inspections are also becoming much more commonplace and in demand for wind turbines, solar fields, powerlines, manufacturing facilities and warehouses. This is a great way to make a living at flying your drone, but often requires a little bit more training than something like photography. Take a course and get started on flying a drone for inspections.
Get your Part 107 License
This is really just scratching the surface in terms of what you can do to earn money with a drone. If you’re looking for more ideas on this topic, check out our article on how to make money with a drone. The drone industry is booming, and it’s definitely the right time to get into it, whether you’re just looking for a little extra cash on the side, or hoping to make drones into a career.
If you do hope to use your drone for any type of money-making venture, be sure to get your Part 107 license. If you are caught operating for commercial purposes without a license, you could face FAA civil penalties of up to $32,666 per incident. The FAA may also impose criminal sanctions, depending on the circumstances of violating Part 107 regulations. Criminal sanctions could include a fine of up to $250,000 and/or a prison sentence of up to three years upon conviction.
If in doubt about whether your operation of a drone is for commercial purposes or not, err on the side of caution, and go for your Part 107 license. It takes a little bit of time to study, and $160 to take the Aeronautical Knowledge test, but it’s well worth it to gain more knowledge of your privileges and responsibilities as a drone pilot. Then you will be able to safely and legally earn money with your drone.