The personal drone industry has seen an incredible influx of interest over the last decade. Thousands of new drones make their maiden flights each day, and the number of active pilots of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is increasing at a drastic rate.
While this is all good news for drone manufacturers, drone retailers, children (and adults) who have an interest in mechanics and/or aviation, and industries that can use drones to their financial and tactical advantage, the prevalence of drones darting through the sky (often in residential neighborhoods and commercial areas that are understandably sensitive to such devices) does raise a few important questions.
In this article, we’ll discuss the issue of needing a license for piloting a drone.
There is not a simple “yes” or “no” answer to this query, as regulations and requirements differ depending on the location in which the drone is being flown, and the purpose of the flight.
In the following paragraphs we’ll discuss drone pilot licensing requirements for flying a drone recreationally as well as commercially, and we’ll also delve into the topic of obtaining a remote pilot’s license (should the need arise).
Flying a Drone Recreationally
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has provided clear guidelines regarding pilot license requirements for flying drones recreationally. If you fly your drone indoors, you don’t need a remote pilot’s license and you may not even need to register your drone with the FAA.
If you fly your drone outdoors for recreational purposes then you will need to register the device if it weighs more than 0.55 pounds. At this point you have two options for flying your drone recreationally. According to the FAA, you do NOT need to obtain a remote pilot license under the following conditions:
- You are flying the drone purely as a hobby and for solely recreational reasons.
- You follow the guidelines set forth by your local community.
- You keep your drone within a visual line-of-sight.
- Yield to any and all manned aircraft.
- Remain at least five miles away from airports and air traffic control towers.
- Your drone must not weigh more than 55 pounds.
You can also fly your drone for recreational purposes if you or someone monitoring you has a valid remote pilot license. The restrictions for such recreational flights are as follows, according to the FAA website:
- You must register your aircraft as a non-model, unmanned aerial vehicle.
- You must adhere to the FAA’s Small UAS Rule, Part 107.
- It is an absolute requirement that if you operate your drone under this second set of rules that either you or someone supervising you has a valid remote pilot’s license.
Long story short, if you plan to fly your drone in a field, park, or other area where there manned aircraft aren’t constantly passing through and there is no immediate threat to power lines or people then you do not need a remote pilot’s license, although you will likely need to register your drone and ensure that you are only using the device as a hobby.
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Flying a Drone Commercially
As with most things in the United States and many other countries, flying a drone as a way to make money means you have to cut your way through a lot of red tape that wouldn’t otherwise exist if you were doing the exact same activity simply for fun.
First, you must register your commercial drone and obtain an airworthiness certificate for the drone. This is mainly required for insurance purposes. You must also follow all federal, state and local laws regarding UAV operation, including details such as:
- Recording capabilities
- Distance from schools, banks, federal buildings, etc.
- Obtaining a remote pilot certificate
If you or your drone are coming from another country then you must apply for a waiver exemption to conduct your drone in a commercial manner. The FAA does not recognize international drone pilot certificates and you could easily find yourself and your company in hot water by ignoring this law.
Commercial drone operation is becoming a big business in the United States, which means regulators are tightening up when it comes to making sure drone operators are adhering to all applicable laws and standards. Commercial drones are often used by construction companies, media companies, government surveyors and professional video makers, and whether you are the proprietor of such a company or using a contractor who operates a drone it is in your best interests to make sure all of the FAA’s guidelines and rules are being followed – no exceptions.
Flying a Drone in Special Circumstances
There are many special circumstances in which some drone pilots may be eligible to receive a special exemption for flying a drone in an area or at a time when it would otherwise be prohibited. Due to the need for brevity we won’t discuss each specific circumstance in this article. However, if you believe you may qualify for an exemption then you should visit www.FAA.gov and do some research on a “Section 333 Exemption” to determine if you can legally operate a drone under this clause.
How to Obtain a Remote Pilot’s License
If you need a remote pilot license now, or if you think you might need one in the future, the good news is that the process is relatively affordable and hassle-free.
It is worthwhile to look into paid courses for the FAA part 107 test.
It will be much cheaper in the long run to follow a comprehensive paid course than to take the test several time and failing. Plus you will lose money from not being able to fly.
Our favorite option is the Drone Launch Academy. It is a great course and if you fail the test you will get your money back along with the $150 test fee! Check out some samples of the course at their site.
Drone Pilot Ground School is also a great option, and they will give you your test fee back if you don’t make the test on the first try. You also get lifetime access to all the content, which is useful since you need to do an update test after 24 months.
According to the FAA’s website relevant study materials are available online by going to:
The aforementioned links will provide you with a lot of the information you need to become qualified as a drone pilot, and you can even review sample test questions via these links.
Keep in mind that for some reason the FAA online course was created with the assumption that you already have a Part 61 pilot certificate, so you will need more info than that to be able to prepare for the test.
To take the test you’ll need to find an accredited knowledge testing center in your area. Visit https://www.faa.gov/training_testing/testing/media/test_centers.pdf or call (800) 947-4228 or (800) 211-2754 to find a knowledge testing center nearby. The cost of the test is approximately $150 and you’ll need to bring a valid form of U.S. government identification (state I.D., driver’s license, military identification card, residency card, passport, etc.) that show your photo, date of birth, current physical address, and signature.
If you fail the test, you can try again in 14 days. If you pass, however, then you’ll need to complete the FAA Airman Certificate and the Rating Application. Applications are usually validated within 10 days, at which point you can print out your temporary remote pilot license. This temporary license is valid for up to 120 days, by which point the FAA will have mailed you your permanent Remote Pilot Certificate.
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