Want to be a commercial drone pilot? Here’s what you need to know.
As mentioned in our previous post, in order to fly drones for commercial purposes one needs to obtain a Remote Pilot Airman Certificate from the FAA as required by Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulation (14 CFR) Part 107. Their objective is to ensure the safety of the National Airspace System (NAS) and that small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) do not pose a threat to national security. To obtain a Remote Pilot Airman Certificate, you first must meet the following requirements:
- Be 16 years old
- Be able to read, speak, write, and understand English (exceptions may be made if the person is unable to meet one of these requirements for a medical reason, such as hearing impairment)
- Be in a physical and mental condition to safely operate a small UAS
Next, you have to pass the FAA knowledge test. This test evaluates your knowledge of the NAS and operations within the airspace. Knowledge test topics include:
- Airspace Classification, Operating Requirements, and Flight Restrictions
- Aviation Weather Sources
- Effects of Weather on Small Unmanned Aircraft Performance
- Small Unmanned Aircraft Loading
- Emergency Procedures
- Crew Resource Management
- Radio Communication Procedures
- Determining the Performance of Small Unmanned Aircraft
- Physiological Factors Affecting Pilot Performance
- Aeronautical Decision-Making Judgement
- Airport Operations
Further, it tests your knowledge of Chapter 107 regulations that establish specific operational requirements for small unmanned aircraft systems, such as:
- Unmanned aircraft must weigh less than 55 lbs.
- Visual line-of-sight (VLOS) only; the unmanned aircraft must remain within VLOS of the remote pilot in command and the person manipulating the flight controls of the sUAS
- sUAS may not operate over any persons not directly participating in the operation, not under a covered structure, and not inside a covered stationary vehicle
- Daylight-only operations or civil twilight (30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset, local time) with appropriate anti-collision lighting
- Must yield right-of-way to other aircraft
- May use visual observer but not required
- Maximum groundspeed of 100 mph
- Maximum altitude of 400 feet above ground level or, within 400 feet of a structure, 400 feet above that structure
- Minimum weather visibility of 3 miles from control station and must remain 500 feet from clouds
- Operations in Class B, C, D and Class E surface areas are allowed with ATC approval Operations in Class G airspace are allowed without ATC permission
- sUAS cannot be operated from a moving aircraft
- sUAS cannot be operated from a moving vehicle unless the operation is over a sparsely populated area
- No careless or reckless operations
- No carriage of hazardous materials.
Chapter 107 indicates that the following regulations are subject to being waived in specific instances:
- Flying at night
- Flying directly over a person or people
- Flying from a moving vehicle or aircraft, not in a sparsely populated area
- Flying multiple aircraft with only one pilot
- Flying beyond the pilot’s visual line-of-sight
- Flying above 400 feet
- Flying near airports/in controlled airspace
At this point, all you need to know was that waivers can be obtained. When we apply for a waiver we’ll share that experience with you.
Once you pass the exam the next step is to pass a security background check by the Transportation Security Administration. This is accomplished by completing FAA Form 8710-13 for a remote pilot certificate (FAA Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application) using the electronic FAA Integrated Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application system. Upon passing the background check a temporary Remote Pilot Airman Certificate is issued. Then in approximately 60 days you will receive a formal certificate, like a driver’s license, in the mail.
While there are many critical factors to consider before flying your sUAS, the most important factor is to determine what airspace classification you will be flying within, and whether you must obtain FAA authorization to fly within that airspace. Generally, if you will be flying within 5 miles of an airport you most likely need to obtain authorization from the FAA. Currently it can take up to 90 days, or longer, for the FAA to act upon an authorization request. However, the FAA is working towards implementing an automated on-line system that will expedite the review process. In most cases once that system is on-line, most decisions should be made instantaneously. In some instances, applications will require additional time for review and decision. This will include applications associated with flying in controlled airspace of major airports and in close proximity to manned air traffic.
Once you pass through all of these tests and authorizations, you are free to fly. Happy flying!