Though you can easily find the page where the FAA has published their new rules for Drone operators (which goes into effect in late August 2016), what may be less easy is deciphering exactly what you might need to do. We’re here to amend that with an easy bullet point list that you can use to make sure you’re in compliance to fly your drone commercially.
Please note, this is only for drones that weigh less than 55 pounds. Anything larger is considered a different type of unmanned aerial vehicle and is subject to different rules.
Also, these steps and new rules won’t take effect until August 2016, so for now it’s more of a preparation process.
• Remote Pilot in Command: In order fly your drone commercially, you have to establish yourself as what the FAA is calling a “remote pilot in command position.” Basically, you have to register as such and pass a test (detailed below).
• Supervision: If you’re going to fly a drone, you either have to have one of these permits or be under the direct supervision of someone who does.
• Get Certified: So how do you get this certification? Firstly you have to be prepared to be vetted by the Transportaion Security Administration (which is part of what happens as a result of the two options to follow), as well as be at least 16 years of age. If you’re prepared to be vetted and you’re at least 16, then you have one of two options you can take to get your remote pilot certificate, which is what you will need to legally fly your drone commercially:
1. Pass a Test (this is the option that will apply to most drone pilots): Pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved testing center. What does the test include?
- Applicable regulations relating to small unmanned aircraft system rating privileges, limitations, and flight operation
- Airspace classification and operating requirements, and flight restrictions affecting small unmanned aircraft operation
- Aviation weather sources and effects of weather on small unmanned aircraft performance
- Small unmanned aircraft loading and performance
- Emergency procedures
- Crew resource management
- Radio communication procedures
- Determining the performance of small unmanned aircraft
- Physiological effects of drugs and alcohol
- Aeronautical decision-making and judgment
- Airport operations
- Maintenance and preflight inspection procedure
2. Be a Certified Pilot: Hold a part 61 pilot certificate other than a student pilot, and complete a flight review within the previous 24 months as well as complete a short online training course and test provided by the FAA.
•If Already a Pilot… If you are already a Part 61 pilot certificate holder, you can obtain a temporary remote pilot certificate immediately upon submission of their application for a permanent certificate. Other applicants will obtain a temporary remote pilot certificate upon successful completion of TSA security vetting. The FAA anticipates that it will be able to issue a temporary remote pilot certificate within 10 business days after receiving a completed remote pilot certificate application.
After the Test: If you’re part of the “not already a pilot” crowd like myself, the next step is to complete an FAA form. It’s specifically named 8710-13, and is for a remote pilot certificate (FAA Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application). You can do so using the electronic FAA Integrated Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application system (IACRA). If for some reason you don’t want to complete the form online, you can do it via a paper process. That process is outlined here.
- Register using the FAA IACRA system
- Login with username and password
- Click on “Start New Application” and 1) Application Type “Pilot”, 2) Certifications “Remote Pilot”, 3) Other Path Information, 4) Start Application
- Follow application prompts
- When prompted, enter the 17-digit Knowledge Test Exam ID (NOTE: it may take up to 48 hours from the test date for the knowledge test to appear in IACRA)
- Sign the application electronically and submit to the Registry for processing.
• Confirmation: A confirmation email will be sent when you have completed the TSA security background check. This email will provide instructions for printing a copy of the temporary remote pilot certificate from IACRA.
• Getting certified: A permanent remote pilot certificate will be sent via mail once all other FAA-internal processing is complete.
This is amazing news to drone pilots, who to this point had to go through some rather ludicrous rules in order to legally fly their drone. It was speculated that there was no way the FAA was going to require pilots to check with local air traffic control towers, as this would be heinously challenging for all parties involved.
Instead, the FAA is not requiring drones to comply with current agency airworthiness standards or aircraft certification like plans and helicopters. Instead, the remote pilot will simply have to perform a preflight visual and operational check of the small UAS to ensure that safety-pertinent systems are functioning property. This includes checking the communications link between the control station and the drone. This puts the onus of maintenance on the operator, which makes it much easier and avoids the absurd amount of oversight previously required.
To locate the nearest FAA-Approved Knowledge Testing Center, you can use this PDF that lists each approved center by city and state. For more information on testing, visit the FAA’s official testing page.
And as always, you can peruse the FAA’s official announcement of the new rules here.