Getting a Commercial Drone License in the US [Step-By-Step]

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Commercial Drone License in the USDrones have, if you’ll excuse the pun, really taken off over the past few years.

While radio-controlled aircraft have always been a rather niche hobby, multirotors have caught the attention of a more mainstream audience. These days it’s little surprise if someone pulls a selfie drone from their back and casually tosses it into the air.

Of course, having thousands of tiny aircraft fill your airspace is a recipe for disaster if left unchecked.

Non-commercial drone use generally doesn’t require a drone license (with some exceptions) but to start a drone business and earn some actual cash you’ll have to invest a fair amount of time and money into getting a commercial drone licence. The rules governing commercial drone flight for drones under 55 pounds are collected under Part 107 of the FAA regulations.

In this article we’ll be going over the basic process you need to follow in order to get this commercial drone certification, as well as good places to start looking for help prepping for the test.

How to Get a Commercial Drone Pilot License – The Basic Process

To successfully obtain the right paperwork to legally fly your drone for commercial purposes, you’ll have to go through a number of steps. Follow them diligently and with the proper preparation, and you won’t find yourself running in circles and making unnecessary work for yourself.

Before you start the process of applying for a commercial remote pilot certification, you should make sure that you actually qualify to get one in principle.

General Commercial Drone Pilot License Requirements:

  1. You must be at least 16 years old and proficient in English.
  2. You also need to be in good physical and mental condition. So people with heart problems, mobility issues and so on should not pursue commercial drone licenses. This is not only for your own safety, but for the safety of the public at large. Of course, if you have a physical or mental ailment that is completely unrelated to safe drone operation there’s no issue.

Now, given that you are eligible to become a commercial drone pilot, here’s what you need to do.

1. First, Learn the Rules! The FAA Remote Pilot Certificate

drone rulesThe FAA is constantly working to refine the rules and regulations that govern drone operation within the USA.

The most important content is of course collected under the FAA Part 107 rules, but the test you’ll have to complete will also include questions that all pilots should know the answer to.

This includes things such as how to request ground clearance over the radio and how to evaluate weather.

The topic areas in the knowledge test are:

  • Regulations
  • Airspace & Requirements
  • Weather
  • Loading and Performance
  • Operations

Although there is no practical test to get a commercial drone pilot certification, you’ll quickly realize that this isn’t some casual test you can breeze through by studying for it the day before.

On average, people need about 2-3 weeks of preparation in order to pass it.

Although it will cost a bit of money, the most surefire way to pass your Part 107 test is to get some professional help.

I’ll be discussing some of the best prep courses you can take a little later in the article.

In order to operate a drone for any business purposes (to make money) in the United States you will need a license.

This is called a Remote Pilot Certificate.

Remote Pilot Prep Course

The Prep Course by Drone Launch Academy is comprehensive and fairly priced. 

They’re so confident  they’ll give your money back as well as the $150 test fee if you should fail. 

You can also check out DroneGuru´s own Study Guide to the FAA Part 107 Exam here.

2. The Next Step: Booking the FAA Part 107 Test

So you’ve done enough self-study and have taken a guided course offered by a professional. Now it’s time to actually book your test.

In order to secure a test spot you’ll need to contact a Knowledge Test Center. There are almost 700 of these centers across the US, so most people should have one within a reasonable distance from them.

Once you’ve booked the test, all you have to do is show up at the right time and sit down to write it. If you have at least 42 correct answers out of the 60 questions, you’ll get your certificate a few weeks later.

That is, after you let the FAA know about your pass by completing form 8710-13 and submitting it electronically.

Now you’re qualified to fly a drone commercially, but keep in mind that you’ll have to write an upkeep test every two years. This test is a little shorter and will make sure that you still know your stuff, including any new regulations that have come into effect since you last passed your test.

3. Finally, Register Your Drone

Register Your DroneWhile your remote pilot certification empowers you to fly according to Part 107 rules for money, it doesn’t mean you can take to the skies yet. Each drone that you plan to use must be properly registered with the FAA.

Registration only costs five bucks and you need to redo it every three years. You can register online. Just go to the registration site and choose “Fly sUAS under Part 107”.

You’ll need to attach the registration number you’ve received to the drone itself. So if it crashes somewhere they people who find it will know where to send the bill.

You should always keep both your licence and registration on you. Any law enforcement official can ask you to produce paperwork, which may include waivers, when you are operating a drone.

Just as a reminder, all drone operators, commercial or otherwise, have to register their drones with the FAA, unless it is under the minimum weight.

The Best FAA 107 Prep Courses

drone prep coursesSome people are just naturally good at learning something new without anyone helping them along the way. Most of us however, will benefit greatly from having professional help.

Especially given how much each attempt at the test costs.

The problem is that plenty of people have smelled blood in the water when it comes to drone certification. Many of the new drone “academies” that are popping up are out to grab your cash and don’t care if their content will help you pass or not. At the same time, there are more than a few excellent prep courses out there as well.

Here are three offerings from drone schools we think represent the best deals for aspiring commercial drone pilots right now.

Drone Launch Academy

The Drone Launch Academy offers a prep course for the commercial pilot certification for $199. Not only is this less than many other offerings, they also guarantee a first time pass.

Should you fail, you’ll get your money back and the fee as well. Obviously terms and conditions apply, so make sure you agree with them before you fork over any cash.

You can try a portion of the course for free to see if it’s style works for you, but out of about 5000 students the academy claims 99.02% have passed. That’s a strong endorsement of the course quality.

For your money you get lifetime access to the course material. This may not seem like an important fact until you consider that you have to retake the test every two years.

So really the longer you are a commercial pilot, the less this course actually costs you. Looking over the curriculum, these guys seem to cover everything you’ll need to know, which means you only need to concentrate on one information source and can be sure you haven’t missed anything.

Drone Pilot Ground School

The Drone Pilot Ground School has seen more than 18 000 students go through its virtual doors, which is even more amazing when you consider that they are one of the pricier players in the market.

For your $299 you get lifetime access to the 70+ lecture videos and multiple practice tests. Students also get one-on-one support via phone or email if they get stuck on something.

Get a drone license at Drone Pilot Ground School

Drone Pilot Ground School will also give your money back as well as the test fee if you fail on your first try. Something they are willing to do because of a 99% pass rate.

While $299 is quite a chunk of change, you can preview the course to see if it suits you. In the bigger scheme of things it really isn’t all that much money considering its an investment towards making money. The free do-over if you fail also goes a long way to making the price more appealing.

From what I’ve seen of their video material, it’s professionally-produced, clear and concise. I particularly like how they also explain the practical interpretation of the rules. You don’t need that to pass the test, but it will actually help you fly better. You don’t have to take my word for it however, just check out the free on their site.

You can use the code DRONEGURU50, to get $50 off the course!

Dart Drones

Dart Drones sets itself apart from other online courses by also offering an optional in-person training supplement.

The online course itself is about $350. Up that to a whopping $670 and you get eight hours of personal training with an instructor. If you really have little or no experience flying a drone, this could be the all-in-one package you need.

Most people are of course going to opt for the cheaper online-only course. If only because not everyone can actually make it to the physical location. So what’s being offered to online-only students?

Like all the other big players, you’ll get your course and test fee back if you don’t pass the first time, but their curriculum has been developed by an actual navy helicopter pilot. So the general airman parts should be especially excellent. In fact, all the people who worked on developing this curriculum have pretty impressive credentials.

You also get a study guide with 50 pages of content and access to the Chief Pilot in case you have any questions.

One downside is that you don’t get lifetime access to the course material. You only get 6 months. However, they do list a free 60-day access period for your re-certification included in the price.

The Cost of a Commercial Drone License Test

Drone License feeSince this is an application for commercial operation, the costs involved are a little more than those for private pilots.

Apart from private course fees, you’ll have to pay $150 every time you sit down for the test. While that’s not a huge amount of money, it quickly adds up if you have to do the test over and over again to pass it.

Luckily most of the reputable prep courses offer a refund of your course fee if you fail on the first try, which is another reason it makes financial sense to sign up for one.

Regional Peculiarities for Commercial Drone Pilots

Regional PeculiaritiesBecause the USA is a collection of federated states, there are multiple level of legal regulation that you should pay attention to as a commercial drone pilot.

The highest level of law in the US is federal law. Any FAA regulations are at the federal level and cannot be overridden or contradicted by state law.

However, states are perfectly within their rights to add additional rules for drone pilots, as long as these do not conflict with anything the FAA has published.

This means that, although you have studied and passed your Part 107 knowledge test, you still may not know all you must in order to fly legally in your state.

While we can’t list the unique drone laws of every state here, these following four states serve as excellent examples of the sort of additional restrictions you’ll have to contend with.

The only thing you can do is get a copy of drone regulations for the state you want to operate in and make sure you know and understand them. Unfortunately ignorance of the law is never an excuse.

Getting a Commercial Drone License in New York

The State of New York has quite a long list of drone-specific state law which has been frantically passed over the last few years as more and more drone fill the sky.

It’s completely illegal to fly a drone within the city limits of New York city itself. Presumably with the right permits and permission it may be possible, but as it stands you can’t do any drone photography in New York city, regardless of your pilot certification status.

Elsewhere in the state, the process is pretty much the same as outlined above. Just pass the Part 107 knowledge test and get your commercial certification.

Getting a Drone Pilot License in Texas

Texas also has no special additional rules for getting a commercial drone licence. As long as you get the federal Part 107 certification, then in general you’ll be good to go.

There are quite a few Texas-specific regulations that you should be aware of as a commercial pilot though.

One of the main restrictions is that only law enforcement agencies are allowed to film property within 25 miles of the US border for security purposes. Which means you can’t do any private work in this vein as a commercial drone pilot.

Commercial image capture is allowed, but you can’t have any recognizable faces in the image.

Texas has some pretty strict privacy laws when it comes to drones, so commercial pilots need to be very careful.

Getting a License in North Carolina

As in every other state, you need at least the federal Part 107 certification for commercial drone operation. However, you also need to apply for and pass state certification. Known as the NCDOT UAS Knowledge Test.

Once you have both types of certification you are also bound by state terms and conditions.

Getting a Commercial Drone Pilot License in California

California also requires federal certification at a minimum, but also has some special laws that could affect you as a commercial drone operator.

Significantly, emergency first responders have legal immunity if they decide to destroy or damage your drone. That is, if the first responder judges your drone as interfering with their work. On top of this you’ll be charged with a misdemeanor too.

In order to operate a drone for any business purposes (to make money) in the United States you will need a license.

This is called a Remote Pilot Certificate.

Remote Pilot Prep Course

The Prep Course by Drone Launch Academy is comprehensive and fairly priced. 

They’re so confident  they’ll give your money back as well as the $150 test fee if you should fail. 

Reaching the Finish Line

commercial drone certificateThe path to finally getting a commercial drone certificate can be long, somewhat expensive and tricky. Is it worth it?

Oddly enough, the existence of these moderate barriers might actually be good for those who seriously want to make a career of operating a drone. It means that people who are looking to take chances or make a quick buck will be discouraged. It also means that the professional competition you’ll face will be of a better quality.

Whether the market is already too saturated with commercial operators is an open question. The thing is, people are inventing new uses for drones every day. Which means entering the industry at this stage is by no means fruitless if you have a keen eye for new opportunities. As a commercial service, drones are now only at the start of their journey. Market maturity is still a long way off.

So if you have your heart set on flying a drone for a living, there’s no reason to be scared off by these new regulatory requirements. In the greater scheme of things it’s not that much money or time.

With enough diligence and prep you should breeze through in your first attempt.

Sydney Butler

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