How to Get a Drone Pilot Certificate

The drone industry is continuing to evolve at a rate that may even rival its piloted-aircraft counterparts (a mere 65 years between The Wright Brothers and The Moon Landing!), and with that evolution comes a certain amount of responsibility on drone pilots to keep the skies safe. 

The FAA agrees, and has created a certification program for drone pilots known as a Part 107 Certificate. In addition to being quite fun by most accounts, drone piloting can also be quite lucrative, and licensure is the safe bet for drone pilots to ensure they are doing right by the aviation powers that be. 

Drone, UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle), and UAS (unmanned aerial system) tend to be used synonymously by the mainstream media, but the FAA primarily uses the latter when discussing drone licensure, and a UAS involves all parts of the drone operation, including the aircraft, the pilot, the remote, and the data link between them all. 

What Is a Drone Pilot Certificate? 

A drone pilot certificate or “Remote Pilot Certificate” is an FAA requirement for anyone who flies a drone commercially. It demonstrates an understanding of regulations, operating requirements, and procedures for safely flying drones. 

What Can You Do With a Drone Pilot Certificate? 

Recreational drone pilots do not need a certificate, but if you decide to monetize your hobby, you will need one. In short: you can make money with your drone if you have the FAA certification.  

Pros & Cons of a Drone Pilot Certificate 

The pros and cons are both a bit subjective, but for anyone who wishes to make money piloting their drone, the main “pro” is that you’re legally protected to do so with a remote pilot certificate. 

Cons may include taking the time to study, but the knowledge gained during that time would be considered a pro by most aspiring commercial drone pilots. 

First Time Pilots: Remote Pilot Certificate Eligibility & Requirements 

For individuals who already have another form of FAA pilot certification, the path to a remote pilot certificate is shorter (see next section), but for those drone pilots who do not have any other pilot certifications, these are the minimum requirements and steps needed:

  • Read, write, speak, and understand English (this is the international aviation language) 
  • Be at least 16 year old
  • Be physically capable of flying a drone
  • Once certified, must be willing to complete online recurrent training every two years to maintain current knowledge  

4 Steps to Get a Drone Pilot Certificate (First Time Pilots)

If those prerequisites are checked, you can begin your certification quest with the FAA by following these steps:

Step 1: Obtain an FAA Tracking Number (FTN)

The first step for any pilot (drone, fixed-wing, helicopter, etc.) looking to receive an FAA certification is to create an account on the FAA’s Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) web database. By filling this application, you will receive an FAA tracking number, and be able to schedule your exams and other certification requirements.

Step 2: Schedule the Part 107 (Drone) Exam

Using the IACRA website and FTN from step 1, you should schedule your Unmanned Aircraft General – Small exam at a FAA-approved Knowledge Testing Center. You can take it multiple times, but it’s $175 a pop, so study up! The pass rate is about 92%.

Step 3: Receive Your Remote Pilot Certificate

Next you must fill out a form called FAA Form 8710-13 on the IACRA website, including inputting your Part 107 Exam passing score ID which is given to you when you complete the exam. Following an automated TSA security background check, your certificate will be on its way shortly via mail. A temporary email license is provided so you can start flying (and getting paid to do so) ASAP.

Step 4: Keep Your Remote Pilot Certificate Available

Whenever you’re conducting commercial operations with your drone, you must have your certificate handy just like a driver’s license. 

Existing Part 61 Certificate Holders: Remote Pilot Certificate Eligibility & Requirements 

The path to legal commercial drone operations for individuals who already hold a Part 61 Certificate is a bit shorter, but you still need to have these boxes checked:

  • Must hold pilot certificate issued under Part 61 by the FAA
  • Must have completed a flight review within 24 months of applying for remote pilot certificate

5 Steps to Get a Drone Pilot Certificate (Part 61 Cert. Holders)

Part 61 certificate holders are able to complete an online version of the Small UAS Training course, making for a bit of an easier path. Here are the other steps:

Step 1: Complete the Part 107 Small UAS Training Course

Complete this course on the FAA’s website to demonstrate knowledge of drones and aviation.

Step 2: Use IACRA to Apply for a Remote Pilot Certificate

Anyone with a Part 61 Certification should already have an IACRA account. Once the Part 107 course is complete, drone pilots should fill out form 8710-13 for their remote pilot certificate.

Step 3: Validate Identity

After completing the online course and online certification form, Part 61 holders do still need to do a quick in-person meeting to finalize their drone certification. Make an appointment at either an FAA Flight Standards District Office, or have an FAA-designated pilot examiner (DPE), airman certification representative (ACR), or certificated flight instructor (CFI) verify your Form 8710-13, your current flight review, and your online course completion.

Step 4: Receive Your Remote Pilot Certificate

One of the representatives above will issue a temporary certificate on the spot, and then you will receive your official cert in the mail a few weeks later. You can fly as soon as your paperwork is validated in the step above.

Step 5: Keep Your Remote Pilot Certificate Available

Whenever you’re conducting commercial operations with your drone, you must have your certificate handy just like a driver’s license. 

Keeping Your Certification Up-to-Date 

Unlike the initial Part 107 certification exam, the recurrent training course is free, so even if your commercial drone operation aspirations don’t “take off,” staying current won’t cost you anything.

Aviation, on the whole, is a rapidly evolving industry, and regulations and technology cause frequent changes in how day-to-day operations are conducted. Drone evolution is even more rapid, so in addition to keeping you legal and saving you from possible hefty fines, keeping up to speed with the recurrent training can also help you be better at your drone piloting job.  

Time to Make Money With Your Drone?

There are new commercial uses for drones being discovered every single day, and if you’re a drone hobbyist thinking you might be able to monetize your fun, there is almost certainly a way to do so in your area. 

From inspections to photography to racing and much more, commercial drone use is a booming industry with a lot of money to be made and a lot of fun to be had.

If you’re interested in drones, or anything else that relates to aviation, consider signing up for the FLYING Magazine Newsletter!

FAQ

How much do certified drone pilots make?

As the uses for commercial drones vary, so do the paychecks, but according to Glassdoor, everyday drone pilots earned an average of $79,000 per year. Some hyper-specialized drones can charge thousands per hour for their operations, though!

Do you need a pilot license for a drone?

In order to operate a drone for commercial use, the FAA requires special certification known as a remote pilot certificate.

What size drone requires a license?

All drones over 0.55 pounds must be registered with the FAA, but only those used for commercial activities need to be operated by a licensed pilot.

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