In this article, we outline what it takes to get a drone license. Make note that every country regulates their airspace differently, and in this article, we’ll just be focusing on requirements for drone pilots in the U.S.
To start off, we’re busting the myth that drone-based businesses are by far the easiest startup in the repertoire of potential business ventures. It’s a rose-tinted view: just go to your favorite giant online retailer, order a drone, and start marketing your services. The money will be pouring in!
This is a gross misjudgment of the process to become a fully vetted, legal commercial drone pilot who runs his or her own business. Before you pursue a commercial drone services business, you need to get a drone license (also called a remote pilot certificate) to make yourself legal. In the process of getting a drone license, you will also learn the components of safe drone operation.
When Should You Get a Drone License: Recreational vs. Commercial Use
The rules for when you need to get a drone license are clear:
- You need a drone license when you use your drone for work or business, i.e. commercial use.
- You do not need a drone license when you fly your drone strictly for fun as a hobby, i.e. recreational use.
It’s pretty straightforward. Still, it seems there are still misconceptions about when you need to get a drone license. With the FAA reporting over 100,000 issuances of commercial drone licenses, it’s unlikely that all of the recipients are actively seeking employment as
That being said, anyone who intends to operate their drone, or a company drone, commercially must be licensed to do so.
Section 336 – For Recreational Use
Section 336 refers to the Special Rule for Model Aircraft established in Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. Basically, it codifies what a drone weighing above 0.55 pounds is for recreational use (a model) and what is required of the user. You must register it and pay the $5 fee for each drone you own. There is plenty more to read about recreational use but that isn’t why you’re here.
Part 107- For Commercial Use
Now, this is the reason you are here. The Part 107 Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule is what governs commercial drone pilot operations. In order for you to operate a drone as a commercial asset, you have to possess a current Part 107 drone license from the FAA.
Part 61 Certificate – The Exception to the Rule
This section only applies to manned aircraft pilots. If you are not an airplane or helicopter pilot, feel free to skip to the next section.
The only time a commercial drone pilot does not need to obtain a Part 107 drone license is if he holds a manned pilot certificate issued under 14 CFR Part 61 and has completed a flight review within the previous 24 months.
Manned aircraft pilots need to complete a (free) online training course called “Part 107 small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) ALC-451” available on the FAA FAASTeam website.
After you successfully complete that course, you then complete FAA Form 8710-13 (FAA Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application for a remote pilot certificate), validate your applicant identity, and make an in-person appointment with your local FSDO, an FAA-designated pilot examiner (DPE), an airman certification representative (ACR), or an FAA-certificated flight instructor (CFI) to sign your form.
How to Get an FAA Drone License, Step-by-Step
Returning to why you’re here, let’s talk about the exact steps you need to take to get a Part 107 drone license for commercial operations.
To get a commercial drone license from the FAA, you’ll need to follow these steps:
- Be at least 16 years old.
- Pass the Aeronautical Knowledge Test. You can register to take the test at any FAA-approved knowledge testing center.
- Apply for and obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate. You can apply using the FAA’s online IACRA system 48 hours after taking the Aeronautical Knowledge Test.
- Pass a background check by the Transportation Security Administration (this vetting happens automatically during your application process).
Once you have your drone license, you’ll also be required to:
- Keep your license up to date by passing 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 any accidents to the FAA within 10 days of any operation that results in injury or property damage over $500.
- Before all flights, conduct a preflight inspection, to include specific aircraft and control station systems checks, to ensure the small UAS is safe for operation.
How Much Does it Cost to Get an FAA Drone License?
The testing fee is a flat $150, paid directly to the testing center where you schedule your test. Once you pass the test, there is no additional fee to get your actual certificate.
The other costs to operate as a commercial drone pilot are fairly minimal. There is a $5 registration fee for your drone. Registration is a mandatory requirement for commercial drone operators. Visit dronezone.faa.gov and select “Fly sUAS under Part 107” to create an account and register your drone.
All-in-all, the costs are pretty light. However, there are other costs involved if you plan to start a business. You may need to establish a limited liability company (LLC), which can cost $150-$200. Plus, you’ll need to be insured for your own good and self-preservation. A popular way of
How Long Does it Take to Get an FAA Drone License?
Unlike a private pilot certificate, there are no mandatory milestones that create a concrete timeframe for drone pilots. The first thing you’ll want to consider is how long you’ll spend preparing for and studying for the Aeronautical Knowledge Test.
Our students at Drone Pilot Ground School report spending 15-20 hours studying for the test. You’re not required to complete a preparatory study course, but the over 99% pass rate of our students definitely speaks volumes to the value of putting in some study hours before you officially test.
You can also use the FAA’s free online study materials to prepare for the test. This is an ideal option for those looking to save money or for those with an aviation background. However, for non-aviators, the FAA’s resources may take longer to process. The FAA’s materials are dense, jargon-filled, and difficult to read. If you’re looking for an intuitive breakdown of what will be on the test and support from a real instructor, Drone Pilot Ground School may be a better choice. We offer 1:1 student support to actively coach you through the obstacles you will invariably run into.
Once you’ve taken the Aeronautical Knowledge Test, the FAA anticipates that it will take six to eight weeks to issue a permanent remote pilot c
To speed things up, a temporary remote pilot certificate can be issued in about 10 business days. The temporary Remote Pilot Certificate will allow the certificate holder to exercise all the privileges of the certificate, thus significantly reducing the waiting period prior to being able to operate as a remote pilot in command under part 107.
What do People Use their Drone License For?
A drone is a powerful and practical tool for many industries. Real estate is the most immediately recognizable avenue for a licensed drone pilot; there is a constant need for video and still aerial images of real estate property. However, drone applications are expanding far beyond the real estate industry.
Take the insurance industry for example. Insurance is an explosive market for drones. They can take sweeping panoramic images for large scale damage and disaster incidents, then hover very close to a particular item, like a roof, and inspect it from mere inches away.
In another example, the energy industry is quickly locking onto drones as a means to inspect wind turbines, steam exhaust chimneys, and even inside of giant boilers. Since drones are portable and small, they can be used to access spaces too small or dangerous for humans.
Interested in more examples of industries in which you can find work as a drone pilot? We highlight over ten industries where drone adoption is growing in our Drone Jobs Guide.
How Much Money Can I Make With an FAA Drone License?
We wrote on this subject at length in our drone pilot salary article but will recap the highlights here. Full-time, salaried positions are at a real premium. Salaries vary greatly depending on the work and employer, ranging from $33K – $79K a year.
Another way to make money with a drone is to pursue freelance and client-based work through drone pilot directories like Droners.io or Dronebase. For residential real estate work, you can typically anticipate $200 – $300 per project. However, this can vary as well depending on how you chose to price your drone services.
If you plan to launch your own business implementing your drone skills, such as an inspection or aerial services business, profits will be based on the costs of running your business and the type of services you offer.
You’re Ready to Get Your Part 107 Drone License
Congrats! Now that you’ve read through this article, you should have all the information you need to pursue a Part 107 remote pilot certificate for a commercial drone license. You can study independently with no penalty, but for an aviation novice, we suggest opting for a training curriculum and support network so you can understand the information rather than merely regurgitate the information at
The responsibility of a certified drone pilot goes beyond passing the test. Truly understanding the information will enable you to operate safely, legally, and proficiently. Take a look at our course curriculum, or send any questions regarding Part 107 certification our way by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.