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On June 21st, 2016, the FAA finalized a new regulatory framework for small unmanned aerial systems. Titled Part 107, these new regulations effectively create a new drone certification process that covers the majority of low-risk, commercial sUAS flight operations.

That’s great, but what does Part 107 say about becoming a certified drone pilot?
Among other parameters, commercial drone operators will be required to:

  • Pass the Aeronautical Knowledge Test at one of around 700 FAA-approved knowledge
    testing centers across the United States. That’s what our Drone Pilot Ground School course
    prepares you for.
  • Apply for and obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate with a small UAS rating (like existing pilot
    airman certificates, this never expires).
  • Pass a background check by the Transportation Security Administration (this vetting
    happens automatically during your application process).
  • Pass a recurrent aeronautical knowledge test every 24 months.
  • Be at least 16 years old.
  • Make available to the FAA, upon request, the small UAS for inspection or testing, and any associated documents/records required to be kept under the proposed rule.
  • Report an accident to the FAA within 10 days of any operation that results in injury or property damage over $500.
  • Conduct a preflight inspection, to include specific aircraft and control station systems checks, to ensure the small UAS is safe for operation.

For those who need to operate outside the flight and mission parameters of Part 107, you’ll
need to gain additional permission from the FAA through a waiver process. Things like
flying at night, operating beyond visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS), etc.

Who is eligible to take the FAA written aeronautical knowledge drone test?
Anyone over the age of 16 who is interested in becoming a commercial sUAS/drone pilot.

You must also be proficient in English and in a physical and mental condition to safely operate an sUAS.

Getting your drone pilot certificate is one of the easiest ways to get into the aviation industry.

Of course, saying that it’s easy doesn’t do your training justice. You’ll want to put in a significant number of hours of studying and learning about things like weather, sUAS flight and emergency operations, and the National Airspace System. And while there’s no formal requirement to do so, you’ll also want to log dozens of flight hours across a variety of simulators and drone systems. You’ll probably also want to buy drone insurance or consult a drone lawyer if you plan to do client work.

How much does the aeronautical knowledge test cost?
The cost of the Remote Pilot Certification aeronautical knowledge test is $150. Remember, this is the test that you take in-person at one of the 696 FAA-approved knowledge testing centers across the United States. This money doesn’t go to us, or to the FAA. It’s paid directly to the knowledge testing center when you’re scheduling your testing appointment.

How long does it take to become a certified drone pilot?
After you pass your Aeronautical Knowledge Test, you’ll need to wait up to 48 hours to apply for your Remote Pilot Certificate using the FAA’s online IACRA system. After you send in your application, you’ll go through automatic TSA security vetting, and then assuming you pass that, you’ll receive a temporary electronic Remote Pilot Certificate.

The FAA anticipates that, while it may take the FAA 6 to 8 weeks to issue a permanent Remote Pilot Certificate via snail mail, a temporary remote pilot certificate can be issued in about 10 business days. The temporary Remote Pilot Certificate will allow the certificate holder to exercise all the privileges of the certificate, thus significantly reducing the waiting period prior to being able to operate as a remote pilot in command under part 107.

How often will I have to take the FAA written drone test?
You’ll need to pass an initial written drone test, and then you’ll need to pass a recurrent test every 24 months. More details on the recurrent knowledge testing process here.

How do I renew my Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate?
You will need to take a recurrent knowledge test within 24 months of your initial test to keep your certification current. You can take the test at any time by scheduling an appointment to take the “Unmanned General – Recurrent” test at an FAA-approved testing facility. There is no penalty or fine for testing after your certification expires, but you will not be legal to fly commercially until the recurrent test is passed.

Once you pass the recurrent test, no new certificate is issued. You will continue to use the original hard copy certificate and keep your most recent test results handy in case of an FAA check. Additionally, no action is required in the IACRA system to update the status of your certification.

Do I have to pass a medical exam to fly a drone commercially?
No, you do not. There is no medical exam required to operate a drone under Part 107. It’s up to the pilot to determine whether or not he or she is physically and mentally able to fly.

How can you schedule and take your FAA aeronautical knowledge drone test?
The FAA Aeronautical Knowledge Test (AKT) is administered on a rolling basis at roughly 700 testing facilities all over the U.S. I usually tell our students to schedule the test at least a week ahead of when you need to take it. Most of the testing centers are relatively small, and while demand isn’t overwhelming, it’s the kind of thing you need to schedule ahead of time.

Here’s some basic information about the test:

  • It’s an objective, multiple-choice test.
  • There are 60 questions, with three responses (A, B, and C) per question.
  • Each test question is independent of other questions; therefore, a correct response to one does not depend upon, or influence, the correct response to another.
  • Some questions may require visual references, like airspace maps or charts.
  • The minimum passing score is 70% (meaning, you’ll need to get at least 42 questions right).
  • You’re allowed two hours to complete the test.

Here’s a breakdown of the questions, by knowledge topic:

UAS Topics / Percentage of Items on Test
i. Regulations / 15-25%
ii. Airspace & Requirements / 15-25%
iii. Weather / 11-16%
iv. Loading and Performance / 7-11%
v. Operations / 35-45%
Total Number of Questions 60

I’d recommend calling to schedule your test appointment at least a week ahead of when you want to take it. Most of the testing centers are relatively small, and while demand isn’t overwhelming, it’s the kind of thing you need to schedule ahead of time. When you’re ready to take your test, contact CATS at 1-844-704-1487 (or http://catstest.com/) to schedule your testing appointment. The cost of the test should be (close to) $150. Some students have reported paying as much as $165 depending on the testing center, but it seems the majority of the time, the test fee is $150.

This money goes to the testing facility, not to the FAA. You’ll pay this amount when you register to take the test, either online or over the phone.

How long do I have access to the course for?
To keep your Remote Pilot Certificate current with the FAA, you’ll need to pass a recurrent knowledge test every 24 months. Our students get lifetime access to our online training course, which is updated regularly as the drone industry continues to evolve.

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