Any drone pilot who wants to earn money with a drone in the U.S. must hold a remote pilot airman certificate.
The remote pilot certificate is one of the most challenging requirements of the FAA’s Part 107 rules, which are a set of regulations that oversee the commercial operation of drones in the U.S.
How do you get a remote pilot airman certificate?
To get a remote pilot airman certificate, you have to pass the FAA’s Part 107 Knowledge Test. The test is the reason we’ve called the remote pilot certificate one of the hardest parts of becoming a commercial drone pilot, because preparing for it can be challenging.
Preparing for the FAA’s Knowledge Test can take a long time and be pretty involved. To pass you’ll have to answer 60 questions within 120 minutes and get at least 42 of those questions right.
But don’t worry—we’ll go over all the details about the test and how to prepare in this guide.
We’ll also briefly cover the history of the remote pilot airman certificate, share all the requirements for conducting commercial drone operations in the U.S., cover common questions, and then close things out by taking a look at some of the different kinds of work you can find right now as a commercial drone pilot.
Getting Your FAA Remote Pilot Certificate
- Remote Pilot Certificate History
- FAA Requirements for Becoming a Commercial Drone Pilot
- How to Get a Remote Pilot Airman Certificate
- Common Questions about the Remote Pilot Airman Certificate Process
- Commercial Drone Pilot Jobs You Can Get with Your Remote Pilot Airman Certificate
[Want to get better at flying? Check out our drone flight training classes to learn more about training opportunities near you.]
Remote Pilot Certificate History
The FAA first established the requirement for commercial drone pilots to obtain a remote pilot certificate when they issued the Part 107 rules on June 21st, 2016. The Part 107 rules were the first time a regulatory framework had been created in the U.S. for commercial drone operations.
Before the Part 107 rules, drone pilots who wanted to work with their UAVs had to obtain a 333 Exemption from the FAA.
This path to flying an sUAS for work was notoriously slow and cumbersome. The FAA often took up to 4 months to process 333 Exemption requests and required that a licensed pilot be the one operating the drone, which was quite limiting. Each commercial drone flight also required a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM), a monthly report to the FAA, and that the drone have a registered n-number.
The advent of the Part 107 rules in 2016 and the new certification process for commercial drone pilots served to streamline things for those wanting to work with drones, laying out the groundwork for the commercial drone industry as we know it today.
Commercial vs. recreational drone flying in the U.S.
Before we dive into the FAA’s requirements for becoming a commercial drone pilot, let’s first define our terms.
Commercial drone operations. If you fly your drone for work or business then you’re considered a commercial drone pilot. Any flying done for money or an exchange of services or goods is considered commercial.
Commercial drone pilots fall under the FAA’s Part 107 regulations, which require passing the remote pilot airman knowledge test and becoming an FAA-certified drone pilot.
Recreational/hobbyist drone operations. If you fly your drone for fun then you’re considered a recreational drone pilot. Recreational drone pilots fly under the FAA’s model aircraft rules.
Note: The FAA has said that they will eventually require hobbyists to pass a knowledge test similar to the test required for commercial pilots to receive a remote pilot airman certificate, but the test has not yet been released.
FAA Requirements for Becoming a Commercial Drone Pilot
Thinking about becoming a commercial drone pilot? Here is what the FAA requires you to do:
- Pass the Aeronautical Knowledge Test at one of around 800 FAA-approved knowledge testing centers across the United States.
- Apply for and obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate with a small UAS rating (also called a Remote Pilot Airman Certificate).
- Pass a background check by the Transportation Security Administration (this vetting happens automatically during your application process).
- Pass a recurrent Aeronautical Knowledge Test every 24 months.
- Be at least 16 years old.
- Make available to the FAA, upon request, the small UAS for inspection or testing, and any associated documents/records required by the Part 107 rules.
- Report an accident to the FAA within 10 days of any operation that results in injury or property damage over $500.
- Conduct a preflight inspection, to include specific aircraft and control station systems checks, to ensure the small UAS is safe for operation.
- Adhere to the Part 107 rules when operating a drone for work.*
*Here is a summary of the Part 107 rules:
- Drone must weigh less than 55 pounds
- No flying at night, over people, beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), or from a moving vehicle
- No flying in controlled airspace without prior authorization
To view the full list of rules, see this document created by the FAA.
How to Get a Remote Pilot Airman Certificate
The biggest hurdle to obtaining a remote pilot certificate is the Aeronautical Knowledge Test.
Some people have been able to study for the test and pass by cramming in just a few days but many people take a month or more to study and prepare. Everyone is different, but we would estimate that about 15 to 20 hours of studying is required to be adequately prepared to take the Knowledge Test.
What’s on the test?
The Knowledge Test covers a range of topics related to flying, including:
- Radio communications
- Map and chart reading
- Drone performance
Here’s some more basic information about the test:
- There are 60 multiple-choice questions. Each question has three possible answers.
- You’re allowed two hours to complete the test.
- The minimum passing score is 70% (meaning, you’ll need to get at least 42 questions right).
- Some questions may require visual references, like airspace maps or charts.
- Each test question is independent of other questions; therefore, a correct response to one does not depend upon, or influence, the correct response to another.
To give you a sense for the different areas of knowledge the test covers, here is a breakdown of topics from the FAA:
What resources are out there to help me prepare for the test?
The FAA has a list of free resources you can use to prepare for the test, which can be found here. However, some find the FAA’s resources hard to navigate since they do require a fair amount of time for digging up information and possible answers.
Here are some free resources we’ve created to help drone pilots prepare for the test:
- The 13 Most Challenging Part 107 Test Prep Questions
- 6 Common Questions from Our Part 107 Test Prep Students
- How to Read a Sectional Chart
- Reading an Aviation Routine Weather (METAR) Report
You can find more free resources like this on our list of free guides.
Instead of relying on what the FAA and others provide for free, some drone pilots have opted to pay for a test prep course to help them study for the Knowledge Test.
We have helped over 20,000 drone pilots prepare for the Part 107 test and over 99% of our students report passing on the first try. Learn more about how we can help you prepare for the test.
Common Questions about the Remote Pilot Airman Certificate Process
Here are some common questions we’ve seen from those thinking about getting their remote pilot certificate.
Q: Are there any eligibility limitations to getting your remote pilot certificate?
Q: Do I have to pass a medical exam to get my remote pilot certificate?
Q: Do I have to demonstrate flying proficiency to get a remote pilot airman certificate?
Q: When should I schedule my Knowledge Test to get my remote pilot certificate?
Q: How do I schedule my Knowledge Test?
Q: How much does the Aeronautical Knowledge Test cost?
Q: How long does it take to get your remote pilot airman certificate?
Are there any eligibility limitations to getting your remote pilot certificate?
The only requirements are that you be 16 years or older, you are proficient in English, and you are of sound physical and mental health.
Do I have to pass a medical exam to get my remote pilot certificate?
No, there is no requirement of taking or passing a medical test for those who want to fly drones commercially.
Do I have to demonstrate flying proficiency to get a remote pilot airman certificate?
No, you do not have to fly your drone in front of any FAA personnel or representatives in order to obtain your certificate.
When should I schedule my Knowledge Test to get my remote pilot certificate?
You can schedule your test one week in advance. Space for these tests is not usually competitive.
How do I schedule my Knowledge Test?
Here’s how you schedule your remote airman test:
- Go here to search for your local test center
- Enter your zip code and select “Unmanned Aircraft General – Small” in the Airman Knowledge Test dropdown menu
- Select a location from the options provided and schedule your test
Note: The default entry for the “Distance” dropdown menu is 20 miles. If your zip code does not have any testing centers nearby try expanding the distance incrementally until you find the closest testing center to your location.
How much does the Aeronautical Knowledge Test cost?
The cost of the test is $160. This will be paid directly to one of the 696 FAA-approved knowledge testing centers throughout the U.S. (see page 7 of this resource from the FAA for more information).
How long does it take to get your remote pilot airman certificate?
After you pass the Aeronautical Knowledge Test you have to wait up to 48 hours to get your Remote Pilot Airman Certificate from the FAA’s online IACRA system. Once you have it you’ll automatically go through TSA’s security vetting and, if you pass, you’ll receive a temporary electronic Remote Pilot Certificate from the FAA.
It may take 6 to 8 weeks to get your permanent Remote Pilot Certificate but the temporary electronic certificate should be available in about 10 business days.
Commercial Drone Pilot Jobs You Can Get with Your Remote Pilot Airman Certificate
Here are some of the top industries where people are finding commercial drone pilot jobs right now:
- Real estate marketing—for promotional videos and photos
- Construction—for surveying, mapping, and other aerial data collection to support building projects
- Energy—for inspections and surveys of key infrastructure
- Filmmaking / photography / videography—for aerial videos and photos
- Insurance—for videos and photos to support insurance adjustments (especially roof inspections)
- Agriculture—for monitoring crops and surveying farmlands
- Public Safety—for getting crucial aerial data to fight fires in real time, inform operations during active shooter or hostage scenarios, find missing people in search & rescue scenarios, and more
These are just some of the top areas where commercial drone pilots are working these days. To learn more about all the places where drone pilots are working, check out the results of our 2019 Drone Industry Survey.
If you want to take an even deeper dive into working with drones and all the different ways drone pilots are making money, check out our in-depth guide to drone jobs.
How much can you make with your remote pilot airman certificate?
Like any job, how much you make depends on how long you’ve been flying and the types of skill sets you’ve developed.
Also, some drone pilots work as freelancers, picking up extra jobs here and there from places like DroneBase or PrecisionHawk. Others work full-time for an in-house team at a company or running their own small business.
DroneBase pays its contractors $200-$275 a job, and many of the real estate marketing packages out there run about $300-$800 (keep in mind that these latter prices also include post-production for videos and images). Full-time drone jobs can pay anywhere from $30K-$100K+ a year, depending on how specialized the skills are that the job requires.
Want to learn more about freelancing opportunities for commercial drone pilot? Check out our Master List of U.S. Certified Drone Pilot Directories & Networks.