In this article I’m going to cover a little about becoming a commercial drone pilot, why I decided to become a commercial drone pilot myself, and also give you a little background on the regulations pertaining to drones in the US. Residents of countries other than the US should check their local regulations.
Things You Need To Know Before Buying A Drone
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has jurisdiction over the airspace in the US. That means to legally fly a drone in the US you have to follow the FAA regulations concerning drone operations. The term the FAA uses is sUAS which stands for Small Unmanned Aerial System. The system consists of the unmanned aircraft (the drone), the controller, and the pilot in command (the person flying the drone).
All drones that have a weight between 0.55 and 55 lbs. must be registered with the FAA to legally fly them in the US. This includes the weight of the installed battery and anything else attached to the aircraft. That pretty much means that any drone other than tiny toy drones must be registered.
It’s a simple matter to register your drones. Simply go to the FAA website at this link and register: https://www.faa.gov/uas/getting_started/register_drone/
Before you register you need to consider how you will be using your drone. This isn’t quite as easy as you might imagine. Let’s say you decide to buy a drone, and you think you will just fly it around a little as a hobby. But you want to take video and post it to YouTube or another video sharing service. Because you could monetize a YouTube channel your posting of the video would mean you need to have a commercial license.
What if you help a relative who owns a farm to check their fields for pests? According to the regulations you would need a commercial operator’s license. The FAA regulations state that if the unmanned aerial vehicle is used “in furtherance of a business” then it must be operated under Part 107, which is to say you need to obtain a commercial operator license.
You can read all about the regulations and which type registration you need here.
How To Become A Commercial Drone Pilot
So you have decided you want to use a drone for real estate photos for your real estate business, or you want to shoot awesome videos for YouTube, so what does it take to become certified?
You will need to pass a knowledge exam given by an FAA approved examiner. The test consists of 60 questions, and you will have to score 70% or greater to pass.
The test questions cover such topics as airspace, safety, operations, and weather. You’ll need much of the same knowledge that a private pilot would need to operate safely in the national airspace.
You’ll be tested on being able to read sectional charts, METARS, and classes of airspace. The airspace questions will make sure you understand the classes of airspace, so you aren’t a danger to manned aircraft by flying in controlled airspace around an airport.
These are all things that help to keep aircraft and your drone safe from accidents. The FAA is in no way trying to keep you from flying your drone. On the contrary, they want to assure that you know the rules and regulations so that you can fly safely and enjoy your drone in the context of all the uses of the national airspace.
Why I Became A Certified Commercial Drone Pilot
I decided to become certified as a commercial drone pilot due to the fact that we really wanted to be able to use drone footage in our business as a blog and as YouTube filmmakers. Since the regulations state “in furtherance of a business” the regulations required us to have at least one of us certified to be legal.
Since I had started flight training for a private pilot certificate a few years ago I seemed like the logical choice. Although I had to stop training due to financial considerations during my divorce I had already completed the ground school portion of the training. This meant I was already familiar with all the subjects like airspace and airport operations.
Having this knowledge was an advantage when I began studying for the exam. I just needed to review what I had learned in the past. Then I was able to spend more time on the regulations related to drones in particular.
After spending a few days studying I scheduled my exam for a week out. The examiner at my closest airport was going to be out of town for a week. This gave me a few more days to study. I used an app for the iPhone that allowed me to take mock exams until I felt comfortable. The app is called “Remote Pilot” and is available on the app store. I believe at the time I purchased it the cost was $4.99. I don’t get any compensation for recommending it. I just found it extremely helpful as a tool for preparing for the exam.
The FAA website also has a ton of useful information on becoming a drone pilot, aircraft registration, and how to become certified. I highly recommend checking out their resources before you begin.
Another free resource can be found on YouTube. Tony Northrup did a comprehensive video on the knowledge you need to pass the test. The video is kind of long, but he covers all the things you will need to study. Definitely make time to watch this video if you are new to flying drones.
There are also a ton of ads online for schools for drone pilots. If you are a person who needs a classroom setting to learn those may be helpful for you. I can’t speak to this because I chose not to spend the money. I have seen ads for the schools that charge anywhere from $350 to $500. Honestly, you can find everything you need online to pass the exam. However, certain people may do better going this route. The choice is up to you.
I scored a 90% on the exam on my first try. The exam will cost you $150, and if you fail with a score lower than 70% you will have to pay another $150 and wait two weeks to retake it.
You also need to know that just because you pass the exam you are not certified yet. It will take about a week for the FAA to issue you a temporary certificate. The Department of Homeland Security will do a background check on you during that time also. Once you have the temporary certificate in hand you can then fly commercially. You will receive your full certificate within 120 days.
Now that I have my commercial certification we can bring you aerial footage from our adventures. I also am now offering aerial photo and video services as part of my photography business. You can contact me about those at [email protected]. You can also visit my photography website at Gary Davis Photography.