Part 107 and You
By Ian Smith, Commercial Helicopter Pilot and Sales @DroneDeploy
If you’re reading this, you’re interested in drones — and that’s a great thing. Drones are powerful tools.
But until now, it’s been hard for the average U.S. business to legally harness this power. A convoluted, bureaucratic legal process, affectionately referred to as ‘obtaining a Section 333 exemption’, was the gateway which ensured that the power of drones did not easily get into the wrong hands — your hands.
Fortunately, things change.
In one of the most important recent developments in aviation history, it has been federally decreed that starting on August 29th, 2016, nearly anyone in the U.S. can obtain a commercial, remote pilot operator’s certificate just by passing a knowledge test.
This is the Part 107 rule.
What I learned from aviation
Adopting a conservative demeanor was a rite of passage on my path to become an FAA-certified commercial helicopter pilot and flight instructor. Not being incredibly cautious by nature, I learned through training not to leave anything in aviation up to chance.
One of aviation’s core tenants is preparation. Any pilot will tell you this; be prepared.
Unfortunately for this test, there are no shortcuts or easy ways out (I would never do that to you). Nothing I can write or tell you will substitute your own research, practice, and determination to achieve remote pilot certification — but using the guidelines below is a great way to jumpstart your studies. You likely won’t need many other additional resources, if any at all.
Remember, this is your test — your rite of passage.
Why should you get your Part 107 certification?
I’ll buy you a beer
Have you ever flown your drone for someone as a favor? You know, just snap a few pictures of their house or capture a quick aerial video clip for your buddy’s marketing promo?
And then when finished, in exchange for that favor, that same buddy bought you a beer or paid for the gas to get you back home?
Unfortunately, the FAA does not believe in favors.
You just broke the law.
If you didn’t have the proper certification, then by accepting that beer, or bus ticket, or few bucks of gas — you’ve been given compensation for operating your drone. And if you accept compensation, then you’re operating commercially.
The Part 107 rule makes it much easier to obtain the proper certification to make a scenario like the above, legal.
For around $150 you can take — and hopefully pass (more on that later) — the Part 107 knowledge test to become certified for commercial drone operations.
So whether you’re hired to take slick aerial video of a surfing competition or work for a Fortune 500 energy company that needs to regularly generate linear, orthomosaic maps for identifying right-of-way violations along a transmission line corridor, you’re going to need your Part 107 remote pilot certification.
Who should take the Part 107 knowledge test?
Anyone who plans on conducting commercial operations with a drone in the United States should take the Part 107 knowledge test. A commercial operation is defined as, “an operation for work, business purposes, or for compensation or hire.”
The vast majority of U.S.-based DroneDeploy mappers are classified as commercial operators (growers and farmers included). So if you’re making maps with your drone for commercial purposes, you should become certified for commercial drone operations under Part 107.
What do I need to do to become certified under Part 107?
In a previous blog post, we reviewed the differences between the onerous Section 333 exemption process vs. the shiny new Part 107 rule. For this article, we’ll focus just on what you need to do to obtain Part 107 remote pilot certification:
- Be 16 years or older and able to read, speak, write, and understand English (non-U.S. citizens can take the test)
- Have a drone that’s less than 55 lbs and register it
- Study for the Part 107 knowledge test
- Make an appointment to take the test in-person at a Knowledge Testing Center (KTC) for $150
- Pass the 60-question, multiple choice exam with a 70% or higher (if you fail you must wait 14-days to retake the test)
- Complete form 8710–13 via the FAA IACRA system
- Receive your permanent remote pilot certificate via mail
Note: a person who already holds a pilot certificate issued under 14 CFR part 61 and has successfully completed a flight review within the previous 24 months can complete a part 107 online training course at FAASafety.gov in lieu of the in-person test at a KTC. You must still submit form 8710–13 via IACRA and pass a modified test (different than the below) designed specifically for existing pilots.
Advice and test prep
If you’re new to aviation, you are absolutely going to have to study. Do not take this lightly because you must pass the Part 107 test with a score of 70% or above. If you fail the test then you must wait 14-days to retake it and potentially pay another ~$150 fee.
You are taking a test to become an aviator so you need to learn the rules of the sky. Think of it this way: you wouldn’t want to get into a car without a license and not know what any of the street signs or lane markings mean, would you?
The test will be comprised of the following topics with roughly estimated ratios of each:
In addition to knowing the Part 107 regulations like the back of your hand, I highly recommend learning how to read VFR sectional charts and METARs, learning the different types of airspace, and brushing up on basic weather and meteorology fundamentals.
UPDATE: The FAA has released their own Remote Pilot: Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Study Guide. Click here to check it out—it should be a great resource.
The Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge
The Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge is likely one of the best, most comprehensive resources you can reference during these studies. Best of all, it’s available for free from the FAA here.
At minimum, I recommend studying the following chapters:
- Chapter 1 — Introduction to Flying
- Chapter 2 — Aeronautical Decision-Making
- Chapter 4 — Principles of Flight
- Chapter 5 — Aerodynamics of Flight
- Chapter 10 — Weight and Balance
- Chapter 11 — Aircraft Performance
- Chapter 12 — Weather Theory
- Chapter 15 — Airspace
- Chapter 16 — Navigation
Practice test and other preparation
Nothing beats a practice test. Here’s one, straight from the FAA.
You can also take the Part 107 sUAS course on FAASafety.gov. The test there is meant for existing pilots but still gives a good overview of regulations and operations. Be advised that it omits most other testing topics found on the standard Part 107 test (such as those listed above in The Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge). Check the Google doc here for the question bank.
When you’re ready
You should feel confident going into the test. Remember, you need to score 70% or above to pass.
For reference, most people training for their private pilot’s license will take practices tests consisting of random questions until being able to consistently score 100%, three times in a row.
Can you tell me what the altitude (AGL) of the structure approximately 6 miles northeast of point 4 is on this VFR sectional? What’s the runway orientation at Shoshone airport?
Can you tell me what the visibility and ceiling is at Chicago Midway airport in the METAR below?
The two examples above probably look foreign to you, but going into the test, you should have a solid grasp on how to decipher both of them.
Best of luck
Below are a few more links with further information. You can also try checking YouTube for videos that can help illustrate concepts like airspace, aerodynamics, and weather.
Lamar Gillett, the only P-35 pilot in World War II to shoot down a Japanese Zero, left us with an old aviation adage: “It’s better to be lucky than good.”
Indeed for Lamar, it was true — he wound up directly behind the Zero instead of in front of it. But in addition to lucky, he was also prepared. And just like in your Part 107 testing scenario, preparation is key.
The last step
After you pass the test, make sure to drop us a line — we’ll buy you a beer.
Where to get more information
- Listen to a special episode of the Commercial Drones FM podcast about the Part 107 test, hosted by Ian Smith
- Our friends at Skyward have a great list of Part 107 resources here
- FAA Training Resources and Guides
- CATS (Computer Assisted Testing Service) FAQs
- Register and reserve your spot to take the test at a CATS center
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