So you want to become a drone pilot?
With the rise in popularity of drones both for personal and commercial use, there is growing demand for qualified remote pilots to legally and safely operate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).
This comprehensive guide will walk you through all the steps required to earn your remote pilot certificate and start your career as a drone pilot in the United States.
To become a drone pilot in the USA, you must first obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) by registering for an FAA Tracking Number, passing the Part 107 Knowledge Test, and submitting FAA Form 8710-13.
You must be at least 16 years old, able to read, write, and understand English, and be in a physical and mental condition to safely operate a drone. Once certified, you can legally fly drones for commercial purposes such as aerial photography, infrastructure inspection, and surveying.
What is a Drone Pilot?
As a certified remote pilot, you can get paid to operate drones for commercial purposes like:
- Aerial photography/videography
- Inspection of infrastructure
- Surveying and mapping
- Precision agriculture
- Public safety and emergency response
- News reporting and media
- And many other applications!
FAA Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate
To legally fly your drone for any commercial purpose in the US, you must obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate from the FAA. This certifies that you understand the regulations, operating requirements, and procedures to safely fly drones in the National Airspace System.
Here are the steps to earn your remote pilot certificate:
Step 1: Register for an FAA Tracking Number
The first step is to set up an Integrated Airman Certificate and Rating Application (IACRA) account to obtain your FAA Tracking Number (FTN).
This will link all your flight certificates to your profile.
Go to iacra.faa.gov and click “Register Now” under the Applicant section.
Follow the steps to create your profile with your name, email, and other info.
At the end, your FTN will be generated and emailed to you.
Step 2: Pass the Part 107 Knowledge Test
The next step is to pass the initial aeronautical knowledge exam called the “Unmanned Aircraft General – Small (UAG)“.
This multiple choice exam covers topics like airspace regulations, weather effects on drone performance, emergency procedures, and reading aeronautical charts.
You can register to take the test at an FAA-approved Knowledge Testing Center.
Bring a government-issued photo ID.
The test fee is around $150. You’ll need to score at least 70% to pass.
Here are some resources to study for the exam:
Step 3: Submit FAA Form 8710-13
After passing the knowledge test, you can complete the FAA Form 8710-13 on IACRA to apply for your remote pilot certificate. Log back into your IACRA account and click “Start New Application”.
Here is a guide for completing the FAA Form 8710-13 to apply for a remote pilot certificate after passing the knowledge test:
- Log into your IACRA account and click “Start New Application“. Select the application type “Remote Pilot – Small Unmanned Aircraft System“.
- In Section I, mark the “Small Unmanned Aircraft System” box under Ratings.
- Complete Sections A-P with your personal information. Make sure all information matches your identification documents.
- In Section II, mark “A. Completion of Knowledge Test” since you have passed the knowledge test.
- Attach a copy of your knowledge test report by clicking “Attach Documents” at the bottom of the page.
- Read the applicant certification statement in Section III, then sign and date the form.
- Submit the 8710-13 application to an FAA-approved person (FSDO, DPE, ACR, or CFI) by clicking “Submit Application” at the bottom of the page. Print the application.
- Schedule an appointment with your verifying official to present your application and identification. They will verify your ID, have you sign the printed application, and submit it to the FAA.
- If approved, the FAA will mail your permanent remote pilot certificate within 120 days. You may operate under the temporary certificate until then.
Your certificate application will go through a TSA background check. Once approved, you can print out a temporary remote pilot certificate for immediate use. The official plastic remote pilot card will arrive in the mail within 120 days.
Step 4: Keep Your Certificate Current
Stay up to date on regulations and best practices to fly safely!
There you have it – those are the basic steps to becoming an FAA-certified remote pilot! Now let’s look at the eligibility requirements.
FAA Part 107 Eligibility Requirements
To qualify for a remote pilot certificate in USA, you must:
- Be at least 16 years old
- Be able to read, write, and understand English
- Be in a physical and mental condition to safely operate a drone
- Pass the FAA knowledge exam
If you already hold a Part 61 pilot certificate (like a private pilot license), the process is a bit different.
We’ll cover that next.
Existing Pilots – Path to Part 107 Certificate
If you already have a pilot certificate under 14 CFR Part 61, like a private or commercial pilot license, you can shortcut the process to get a remote pilot certificate.
Here are the steps for existing pilots:
1. Complete Part 107 Online Training
2. Submit FAA Form 8710-13
The next step is to complete the FAA Form 8710-13 application on IACRA, just like for first-time pilots. Make sure to log your Part 107 online training course completion when prompted.
3. Verify Your Identity
You must then validate your identity in-person at a Flight Standards District Office, with an FAA inspector, or at an FAA-approved Knowledge Testing Center. Bring your completed Form 8710-13, your Part 61 pilot certificate, and logbook endorsement.
They will issue you a temporary airman certificate on the spot so you can fly right away. Your permanent remote pilot certificate will arrive by mail within 120 days.
And that covers the certification process for existing pilots! Pretty straightforward.
Step-by-Step Guide for New Applicants
Let’s do a quick recap of the step-by-step process for new pilots applying for their first remote pilot certificate:
- Obtain FAA Tracking NumberRegister for an Integrated Airman Certificate and Rating Application (IACRA) account at iacra.faa.gov to get your official FAA Tracking Number (FTN).
- Pass Knowledge ExamSchedule and pass the FAA Part 107 knowledge exam at an approved Knowledge Testing Center. You must score 70% or higher to pass.
- Submit FAA Form 8710-13Log into IACRA and complete the FAA Form 8710-13 application for remote pilot certificate. Input your knowledge test ID number.
- Print Temporary CertificateOnce your TSA background check is completed, you’ll receive email instructions to print a temporary remote pilot certificate for immediate use.
- Receive Permanent CertificateYour official remote pilot certificate will arrive by mail within 120 days after completing all FAA processing.
- Maintain RecurrencyComplete FAA recurrent training every 24 months to keep your certificate current.
And that’s it! Follow those steps and you’ll be well on your way to becoming an FAA-certified remote pilot.
Finding a Drone Pilot Job
Once you’ve obtained your remote pilot certificate, it’s time to start looking for job opportunities as a drone pilot!
There are a few ways to find drone pilot gigs:
- Search online job boards – Check sites like Indeed, ZipRecruiter, or LinkedIn for “drone pilot” or “UAS operator” positions. Look for openings at surveying, mapping, agriculture, and inspection companies.
- Look for local opportunities – Search locally for construction firms, real estate agencies, news outlets, or videography companies that may need aerial photography and inspection services.
- Leverage connections – Reach out to your personal and professional network. Let them know you’re a certified drone pilot looking for work. Word of mouth is powerful!
- Bid on freelance projects – Check online freelancing marketplaces like Upwork, Freelancer, or Guru for remote drone pilot jobs. A great way to build experience and your portfolio.
- Offer services directly – Contact local businesses directly to offer your drone services, such as photography for real estate listings or 3D modeling for architects.
- Build an online presence – Create a professional website, social media pages, online portfolio, and business listings to showcase your work and help clients find you.
The drone services industry is growing rapidly, with commercial drone revenue expected to reach $42 billion by 2025 according to PwC. There are ample opportunities out there for certified remote pilots – so get your certificate and start applying!
Maintaining Your Remote Pilot Certificate
To keep your FAA remote pilot certificate active, there are a few key requirements:
Complete Recurrent Training
Every 24 months, you must complete either the Part 107 Small UAS Recurrent training course (for Part 61 pilots) or the Part 107 sUAS Recurrent Training course (for first-time remote pilots). This can be done online via the FAA Safety Team website.
Follow Operational Rules
You must always follow the Part 107 rules and regulations when flying your drone commercially. This includes flying under 400 ft, within visual line of sight, during daylight, and staying clear of other aircraft. Violating the rules can result in fines from the FAA.
If you are involved in an accident causing injury, damage, or loss of control, you must report it to the FAA within 10 days. You can submit accident reports on the FAA DroneZone website.
By staying up to date on the latest rules, completing recurrent training, and flying responsibly, you can maintain your Part 107 remote pilot certificate for as long as you want to operate drones commercially!
Is a Remote Pilot Certificate Worth It?
For many drone enthusiasts, earning their FAA remote pilot certificate is one of the most rewarding things they’ve done.
Here are some of the biggest benefits of getting certified:
- Fly drones legally for profit – The FAA certificate allows you to get paid for commercial drone services. Without it, you can only fly recreationally.
- Gain professional credentials – The certificate proves to clients that you are a qualified, knowledgeable remote pilot. It can give you a big leg up over uncertified pilots.
- Access more advanced airspace – As a certified remote pilot, you can request LAANC authorization to fly in controlled airspace near airports. This unlocks more potential drone use cases.
- Satisfaction of achievement – For many pilots, getting FAA-certified provides a huge sense of personal and professional accomplishment.
So is it worth it get your remote pilot certificate? For most drone pilots, the answer is a resounding yes! The investment of time and money to get certified pays off through more job opportunities, higher earning potential, and the satisfaction of reaching that career milestone.
Continuing Your Drone Education
To build an in-demand career as a drone pilot, education doesn’t stop after getting your Part 107 certificate.
Here are some ways to continue advancing your UAS skills and knowledge:
- Take advanced manufacturer training courses to master piloting different drone models
- Learn how to process aerial data and imagery using software like Pix4D and DroneDeploy
- Take continuing education classes on commercial drone operations at local community colleges
- Learn how to create professional drone service packages for clients
- Study up on skills like aerial cinematography and photogrammetry
- Join local and national drone and aviation organizations to network and stay updated on the industry
- Expand your knowledge into related domains like GIS, surveying, CAD, and robotics
Continuous learning will ensure you can provide high-quality, cutting-edge services with your drone and stand out from the competition as a remote pilot. The sky’s the limit!
Fly Safely and Responsibly!
Above all, embrace safe and responsible flying as a drone pilot. Remember that drones can pose risks to people and aircraft if not flown properly. Follow all FAA rules, use good judgement, avoid risky maneuvers, and maintain your skills. Develop robust safety procedures for your drone operations.
As a professional remote pilot, you have an obligation to fly ethically, minimize nuisance to the public, and always make safety your top priority. This will benefit not just you, but the entire drone industry.
We hope this guide has provided a helpful overview of how to become an FAA-certified drone pilot! It’s an exciting career path with huge potential. Get your Part 107 certificate, continue learning, fly safely, and go enjoy those views from above! The sky is calling.