This past June the FAA released the Part 107 ruling, a highly anticipated set of rules governing the usage of drones for commercial purposes that will be enacted on August 29, 2016. As we transition to Part 107, now in the waning days of the 333 Exemption, drone pilots will no longer be required to have a pilot’s license in order to operate a drone commercially. As part of the new ruling, the FAA will only require a “Remote Pilot Certificate,” which can be obtained by passing an aeronautical knowledge test at one of their 700 testing centers around the US. There is also a shift from the word “drone operator”, as the NPRM called them, to the word “drone pilot,” the main distinction being now whether you are a Part 61 pilot (manned) or a Part 107 pilot (unmanned). Part 61 pilots will also be required to take the Part 107 exam, but will be allowed to do so online. In this post we’ll outline some of the key requirements for taking the exam, the format and topics likely to be part of the exam, and how to best prepare for it.
In order to take the exam, drone pilots will need to:
- Be at least 14 years of age to take the test and 16 to get the certification
- Bring a government issued photo ID
- Schedule to take the test at one of the 700 testing centers
- Have English proficiency (read, write, speak)
- Pay the $150 exam fee
- Complete the test within its allotted two hours
- Have a minimum passing score of 70% (meaning, you’ll need to get at least 42 questions right out of 60)
- Retest after waiting two weeks if they fail
Upon successful completion of the exam, the drone pilot will receive their Remote Pilot Certification, but that’s not all. With the certification, drone pilots will be required to:
- Pass a recurrent aeronautical knowledge test every 24 months
- 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 ten days of any operation (for accidents that result in injury or property damage over $500)
- Conduct a preflight inspection including aircraft/control station systems checks (to ensure the small UAS is safe for operation)
Additionally, for pilots who need to operate outside of the rules defined in the Part 107, they will need to gain additional permission from the FAA through a waiver process. These will include operations such as flying at night, over 400ft AGL and Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS).
According to the FAA draft, the Part 107 exam will be:
- 60 question multiple choice exam with three single responses (A, B, and C) per question
- Each question will be independent of the other, i.e. the outcome of one question won’t affect or influence the outcome of another
- Some questions may require visual references like airspace maps or charts
The graphic below gives an indication of how the test will be weighed (note the FAA’s priority on safety by having a greater emphasis on Regulations).
Though this list in not 100% definitive, more details should emerge in the coming weeks about the topics that will be covered on the exam. For the moment, the FAA has summarized the topics as:
- 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 pre-flight inspection procedure
Buyer Beware & How to Prepare
As with all things online, once there’s a hot topic floating around the interwebs, you can bet there’s going to be someone trying to exploit it for a quick buck. Drone study courses are no exception, so please beware of any company claiming they are “official,” and can grant the actual Part 107 certificate upon course completion. Let us be clear in that the Part 107 exam will be administered only by the FAA at one of the 700 testing centers listed above with the certificate granted solely by the FAA. Just be careful and evaluate courses on their own merits, as there are good ones along with scheming not-so-good ones popping up almost everyday!
To get started, the FAA has released a 41 question sample exam to help drone pilots understand the types of questions that will be asked. The FAA has also released a training course for Part 61 certificate holders which anyone, including non-pilots, are welcome to take for free. Another great resource is one provided by Rupprecht Law, a reputable firm that specializes in drone law. Jonathan Rupprecht is well known in media circles as a drone expert, author, manned and unmanned pilot, and analyst of all things drone. He provides many resources on his website and offers supplemental training material for the exam.
Bullish on the Future
Though it’s taken some time to get to where we are now, we see pathways and tremendous growth opportunities opening up in the industry. As a drone software company, we’ve been eagerly awaiting rules that remove the grey area of what drones can and cannot do. Furthermore, the FAA has taken the first crucial step towards setting the foundation for the safe integration of drones into the national airspace.
In early August, The White House hosted a Workshop on Drones and the Future of Aviation to promote the safe integration of sUAS systems in US airspace. This workshop was highly visible and designed to give a boost to the industry, and was quickly followed by the first FAA approval of drone delivery in the US by tech giants Amazon and Alphabet (parent co of Google). In our previous post we discussed future implications for BVLOS operations such as drone delivery, and oil/gas pipeline inspections. We also discussed why we feel these types of operations are essential, and will become the norm in the next several years. Needless to say, these are exciting times for us at DroneSense as we focus on building a platform that will address some of these challenges. The Remote Pilot Certification and Part 107 rulemaking will be a boon for drone pilots, and has give us our clearest directive to date: to build and provide pilots the most robust and versatile flight planning, control, and management toolset needed to succeed and thrive in this dynamic industry.