Interested in procuring a commercial drone license for flying your multi-rotor in a professional capacity? The market for commercial UAS operation is booming in both the public and private sectors. The demand is high for multi-rotor pilots that want to jump the gap from enthusiast to professional.
As such, the FAA implemented regulations to ease restrictions on commercial drone piloting. Part 107 of the FAA code went effective August 29, 2016. As is expected with any process that involves federal licensing there are some points of confusion—but it is far more streamlined than it was before.
The good news is you can become a licensed sUAS pilot (Small Unmanned Aircraft System) in a matter of days. You do not need to log hours “behind the sticks” for a FAA license for commercial drone operation; the federal government assumes you know how to fly a UAV and won’t do anything dumb like interfere with airborne firefighting operations.
Just know that if you do mess up with a commercial drone (causing more than $500 in damage or anything resulting in human injury) you must file an accident report with the FAA.
Part I: Pass the Aeronautical Knowledge Test (AKT)
Passing the AKT is the first step for legally piloting drones commercially. The AKT is a written, in-person test covering the specifics of safe drone operation. It is a 60-question multiple choice exam that is pass-fail; you need to have 42/60 answers (70%) correct for a passing grade.
- Find an AKT testing center near you where you can take the AKT. There’s a $150 test fee.
- Download the 2016 FAA test supplement and study it. You can take this document into the test with you!
- Pay close attention to the information in the supplement’s appendix charts. The map legend and chart legends will contain the answers to several likely test questions.
- Try out the sample test from the FAA—a great way to gauge the knowledge you need for passing the AKT on test day.
- There are loads of free AKT training resources from lawyers, but the one from Jonathan Rupprecht is probably the best of the bunch. He’s a Palm Beach, Florida-based aviation attorney and author of drone flight textbooks; check out his 100-page study guide for a deep dive on acing the Part 107 exam.
- For $50, you can get the GroundSchool app by Dauntless Aviation, a digital test prep kit you can carry around on your Android phone.
Part II: Apply for FAA Remote Pilot Certificate Online
Once you pass the test you must register with the federal government as a drone pilot. The quickest way is through the FAA IACRA system online portal.
Note that according to the FAA, it can take up to 72 hours after you pass the AKT before you can register through the IACRA system.
If you can follow on-screen instructions, there should be few surprises filling out the IACRA application. A couple things to note:
- It takes about 7-10 days for a temporary certificate for commercial drone operation to become available electronically. You will be notified via e-mail. You can operate a commercial drone in a legal capacity once that is received.
- The paper certificate will arrive later by mail.
- If you get stuck, the FAA offers a step by step guide for filling out the IACRA form.
Part III: Fly a commercial drone
If you’re going into business as a sole proprietor you’ll want to check out insurance for your multi-rotor. Understand that commercial drone piloting comes with its own set of liabilities. Once you receive the temporary FAA certificate, that’s all there is to it as far as FAA licenses are concerned. With that in hand, you’re cleared to pilot a commercial drone up to 55 lbs.