The FAA is in control of all airspace in the United States. If you have a drone and plan to fly it outdoors in this country, there are rules you need to follow. Depending on your drone, your desired flight location, and your purpose for flying, you may even need prior authorizations to fly.
Half-way through 2020, recreational pilots still do not need a pilot’s license, but if you fly for compensation, you need your Part 107 remote pilot certificate.
Do I need the drone Part 107 pilot’s license?
It can be a little confusing to figure out if you are a hobby or commercial pilot, so the FAA put out a little guide to try to help. You can see the full FAA guide here.
Some of the questions included in the quiz ask if you are an educator, flying for work, or if you are flying to test a new drone design or technology. As you progress, there is one question that pretty much tips the scales one way or the other: Are you flying for fun or recreation?
There are a number of variables, but what it really boils down to is that the only way you can fly without Part 107 certification is if you will never receive payment or other compensation for any aspect of your flight. If you will never sell your photos, never collect ad revenue for drone footage you put on YouTube, or even get a hotdog as a thank you for taking a photo of friends at the park, you are good to go under the hobby rules. Otherwise, it’s a good idea to look into getting your Part 107 certification.
Things to know before you fly
- You must register your drone with the FAA before you fly
- You must affix your drone registration number to your craft
- Coming soon for hobby pilots: The FAA will require you to pass a test before you fly your drone
- You must acquire your Part 107 certificate if you are to receive any compensation for your flight
- You must follow all of the FAA’s airspace rules if you are flying outdoors
- Hobby flights have different requirements from commercial flights
- In the eye’s of the FAA, drones are aircraft. Period.
- You need to acquire authorization to fly in controlled airspace
- Almost all drones over 249 grams will need a Remote ID broadcast starting April 21, 2021
Frequently Asked Questions
What happens if I fly for fun, but then decide later to sell my drone photos?
Following the letter of the law, you will never be able to sell your photos, or collect ad money from YouTube videos for media captured from your drone if you did not operate under Part 107 regulations for the flight. If the FAA comes asking, it is your responsibility to provide at least flight logs as proof that your operation was properly managed. The advice we received directly from an FAA representative is that all pilots should consider getting their Part 107 and operate under Part 107 regulations for all flights, then they are completely covered to do whatever they want with their footage.
As we’ve said before, the FAA is not actively hunting for folks to prosecute for minor violations like slapping a little drone video on a little YouTube channel, they are more focused on unsafe flights. Like the police on the streets, while you can usually get away with driving a couple mph over the speed limit, you’re still speeding, that’s still against the law, we do not advise you try it.
Are there different drone licenses?
For all drones under 55 lbs, no, there is only one license – the Part 107 commercial license. The FAA has been mandated to roll out licensing for all pilots, you will soon have to pass a basic knowledge test before you can fly any toy drone and up, but for now, if you are not being paid to fly, you don’t need a license. You still need to register your drone, and get authorization for your flights in certain airspaces, but no license.
More recent rule changes will allow you to certify your drone in different ways, but you, yourself, will still need the Part 107 certificate.
Is it hard to pass the Part 107 test?
As with any test, it is only as easy as your knowledge of the subject. What surprises most potential pilots is the amount of controlled airspace classification questions on the test, as well as the weather and attitude questions. The FAA wants all pilots to be prepared to operate safely in any flight situation with their drone, which is great, but the average aerial photographer will find that they never encounter in the wild even half of what they learned for the test. Study hard, and consider checking out the Drone Pilot Ground School paid prep class.
How many questions are on the Part 107 test?
The Part 107 test will be 60 multiple choice questions. The questions pull from a pool of over 100 questions. You will be provided a book filled with various maps and reports that you will have to decipher for the answers, but you should have plenty of time to get them all in the provided 120 minutes for the test. The test has a passing score of 70%, so you need to get 42 correct answers.
After two years, you will need to re-certify. The recurrent knowledge test is 40 questions, you have 80 minutes to get through it and need 70% to pass yet again. The questions pull from the same pool as the original test, or, at least the questions are very, very similar, so all pilots can study together. Update Dec 2020: The FAA has published a rule change. Future Part 107 tests will include night flight operations, and there will no longer be a recurring test — recurring certification will be handled as online training that you can take at home.