You may ask yourself, do I need to be certified to fly a drone? What all is required to become certified? How can I study for the test? How much does this process cost and how long does it take? These are all valid questions. There are many people who have already become certified remote pilots since the test became available in August of 2016. There are more resources available than ever to ensure you pass the test with flying colors.
Why get certified?
If you’re flying a drone, it’s important to be certified. Whether it’s commercially or just for fun, it’s all about being safe out there. It’s actually required by law that drone operators be certified in order to fly a drone legally for commercial purposes. At the least, when dealing with commercial flight operations, there must be an overseeing certified remote pilot, called the Pilot In Command (PIC), who takes on the full responsibility of any given flight. In most cases the person manipulating the controls is also the PIC, but on bigger productions, duties can be spread out across crew members.
Technically, once you’re a certified pilot, you can fly just about anywhere — with proper authorization of course.
Even if you’re flying for fun, it’s still beneficial to get your certification. In fact, hobbyists are held to the same standards as commercial pilots and then some! In addition to following all the regulations of Part 107, hobbyists must also adhere to the five-mile rule, which restricts them from flying within 5 miles of an airport. Once certified, you’ll be able to identify the airspace in which you can and cannot fly, affording you much more freedom than a hobbyist. Technically, once you’re a certified pilot, you can fly just about anywhere — with proper authorization of course. Being safe is most important, and that’s exactly what you’ll learn during the process of becoming a certified remote pilot.
The biggest obstacle in your way to becoming certified is you must first pass the FAA’s Part 107 Knowledge Test. This 60-question test covers a variety of concepts unique to aviation and drone operation. You’ll need to be able to read VFR sectional charts as well as METARS, identify airspace, have a good understanding of weather, and be able to apply that knowledge to scenario-based questions.
There are many ways to approach studying for your Part 107 Knowledge Test. The FAA published a Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Study Guide which covers everything you’ll need to know for the test. It’s an 80-page PDF file available on the FAA’s website.
However, if you’re like me, then diving into a complexly phrased in-depth handbook can be a bit daunting, especially when all the concepts are new to you. You’ll probably want someone who knows what they’re talking about to walk you through the process. It’s a good thing there are plenty of online flight schools available taught by knowledgeable pilots.
These online flight schools can cost anywhere from $99 all the way up to $500, and most of these online courses now offer to reimburse the cost of the test to you, if you don’t pass. Some take it one step further and provide the training course for life, all the while updating the lessons to reflect changes the FAA has made to the test. You may want to consider a course that offers this lifetime subscription as you’ll need to retake the test every two years to maintain your certification. Also, be aware that the FAA is constantly updating and modifying the test, so chances are by the time to you need to take the test again the test may look totally different.
We chose one of these online courses called Remote Pilot 101. The information was presented in a way that was easy to understand. They focus on exactly the information you’ll need to know to pass the test. In some cases, they even give you actual test questions and tell you the answers! Plus, hearing the information being delivered is known to help you better retain what you’re learning.
Once you’re ready to take your test, you’ll need to set up an appointment at one of the approved Knowledge Testing Centers across the country. The first thing to do is to call CATS (Computer Assisted Testing Service). You’ll need to be ready to select a date to take the test, choose a location, and make payment for the test. Currently, the fee for a test is $150.
After passing your test with flying colors, there’s still one more hurdle to jump before you’ll receive your pilot’s license. This step involves creating an IACRA account, and then applying for your remote pilot certificate. You’ll fill out an application - lots of basic information and questions. This is also where you’ll input your Knowledge Test Exam ID number you received upon passing your knowledge test. In a few days, you can log back into IACRA and print out your temporary Remote Pilot certificate, so you can begin commercial flight operations.
Dust off those study habits.
No matter the way you study for the test, it's a good idea to take notes. Write things down! It's been proven that writing things down helps you to remember better, so follow along, but take good notes, as well. We studied for about two weeks before we felt we were ready to pass the test. What’s nice is you can choose to take it whenever you feel ready, so study up; there’s no rush. Take the practice test, ask drone pilots you know for tips, and do your due diligence and you should be flying high in no time.
A freelance video producer and director, Devin has produced television advertisements for local and national television markets.