Do You Need A License To Fly A Drone?

There has been a remarkable flood of interest in the personal drone industry over the past decade. Every day, thousands of new drones take to the skies on their maiden voyages and there has been a dramatic increase in the volume of active unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) pilots.

This is great news for manufacturers of drones, drone retailers, adults and children who have an interest in aviation and/or mechanics. This is also true for industries that use drones to gain tactical and financial advantage. However, the incidences of drones whizzing through the sky (frequently in commercial and residential neighborhoods that are sensitive to these devices) raise a few critical issues that will be addressed below.

Drone Pilot License and FAA Laws & Regulations

Whether you have many years of experience or you are new to flying drones, there are rules, regulations and safety tips designed to assist you with safely operating your device in the national airspace. If you are not sure about what these are, you can get started by going on to the official website of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and selecting the kind of drone user you are. By doing so, you will be able to learn about the rules and regulations that apply to the specific situation you are in. On the website, you can read up on information such as when approval is needed to fly and where it is safe to fly.

According to a law that was passed on January 3, 2018, the UAVs of recreational drone users must be registered with the FAA. The outside of the drone must be marked with the registration number and whenever it is being flown, the pilot must have proof of registration. In addition, the pilot must operate the drone for recreational purposes only.

Recreational Regulations

There is a law describing where, when, and how drones can be flown for recreational reasons. Recreational users are those who fly their drone purely for fun. Follow the rules below to safely operate the drone and assist in keeping the airspace accessible by everyone:

  • Register the drone, place registration number on the outside and always carry proof of registration.
  • Only fly for recreational reasons.
  • Drone should be flown at 400 feet or below when being operated in uncontrolled airspace.
  • Obtain authorization before operating the drone in a controlled. Authorization can be obtained in three ways:
    • DroneZone
    • LAANC
  • For fixed flying sites, via written agreement from the FAA.
  • The device should be kept within your visual line of sight.
  • Do not inhibit emergency response activities like law enforcement activities, disaster relief or firefighting.
  • Do not interfere with and yield to manned aircraft.
  • Flying at night should only be done if the drone has proper lighting.
  • Do not fly over individuals or moving vehicles.
  • Do not fly under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • The drone must not be operated in a reckless or careless manner.

Any intentional violation of the safety requirements or careless/reckless operation could result in civil and/or criminal penalties.

Commercial Regulations

If you are flying a drone as a means of making money, there are some requirements you will need to follow, which would otherwise not exist if you were flying your drone purely for fun. The first step you are required to take involves registering your commercial drone and receiving an official airworthiness certificate for the device. This requirement is primarily for the purpose of insuring the drone. In addition, you will be required to follow all local, state and federal laws as it regards the operation of UAVs. These include such details as:

  • Procurement of a remote pilot certificate
  • Recording capabilities
  • Distance to fly from federal buildings, banks, schools, etc.

You are required to apply for a waiver exemption in order to use your drone for commercial purposes if you or the drone are coming in from another part of the world. International drone pilot certificates are not recognized by the FAA and if you choose to ignore the law concerning this requirement, yourself and/or your company could be in big trouble. Typically commercial drones are used by media companies, professional video makers, government surveyors and construction companies.

Recreational Vs Commercial Flying

The number of regulations that limit how owners and operators of drone can operate the device are among the biggest obstacles to the mass adoption of drones. In the United States, the FAA has come up with a large number of regulations that have held up the growth of the drone market.

The regulation referred to colloquially as the “line of sight rule” is the most predominant of the restrictions. This mandates operators of drones to always keep the unmanned device within eye shot. This obviously takes away any potential drone application in the delivery space since the rule to always keep a device in line of vision defeats the whole purpose of letting a drone go off to deliver a product at the home of a consumer.

However, different drone regulations are instituted by the FAA for those flying drones for commercial purposes and for recreational purposes. In certain ways, the laws governing recreational drones are more lax in comparison to the commercial ones but recreational pilots are still required to abide by the ‘line of sight’ regulation.

Examples of Drones Being Used for Commercial Purposes

  • Videography for business
  • Aerial Mapping
  • Emergency Management
  • Real Estate Photography
  • Inspections (structural, tower, roof, etc.)
  • Land Surveying
  • Construction

Examples of Drones Being Used for Recreational Purposes

  • Capturing footage of a family reunion
  • Capturing images for personal use
  • All operations for personal enjoyment and interests
  • Flying it in the backyard of your home (Bear in mind that your drone must be registered if it weighs in excess of 0.55 pounds, even if it is only being flown in your backyard)

What Is a Drone License?

A drone license is basically a certificate that is legally required to carry out commercial drone operations within the United States that can be obtained from the FAA. The Remote Pilot Airman’s Certificate is the formal name for the drone license and it is granted to commercial drone pilots who have shown a standard level of proficiency and knowledge and passed a screening process carried out by the TSA. We will delve into what is required in order to obtain one of these licenses to legally operate your drone.

How to Get a Drone License

There are a number of steps that should be followed in order to get a license. In order for you to get a commercial drone license, you will need to be 16 years or older. Be able to be successful in the Aeronautical Knowledge Test. You will be able to register and sit the test at a knowledge testing center that is approved by the FAA. You will also need to send in an application for and receive a Remote Pilot Certificate. The certificate is an indication that the holder understands the operating requirements, regulations and the procedures for flying drones in a safe way. The certificate is valid for a period of two years.

The application for the license can be made using the online IACRA system of the FAA; this can be done within 48 hours following the successful taking of the Aeronautical Knowledge Test. In addition, you will be required to pass a background check that will be carried out by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). This screening automatically takes place during the process of application. Following the completion of the TSA security background check, the applicant will be sent a confirmation email.

License Requirements

As previously established, a drone license is required when the drone is used for business or work, that is, for commercial use. A license is not required when the drone is being strictly flown for fun as a hobby, that is, for recreational use. When you have received your drone license, you will be required to:

  • Keep the license up to date by successfully taking a periodic aeronautical knowledge test that takes place every 2 years.
  • Keep up drone registration every 3 years and have the registration card with you whenever you are flying.
  • Upon request, you much make the small UAVs available to the FAA for testing or inspection. In addition, you should promptly present any associated records or documents necessary to be kept under the proposed rule.
  • Before each flight, carry out a preflight inspection, which should include detailed control station and aircraft systems checks. This is important as it ensures that the small UAV can be safely operated.
  • Every accident of any operation that leads property damage or injury in excess of $500 must be reported to the FAA within a period of 10 days.

Part 107 Knowledge Test

The Aeronautical Knowledge Test (AKT) is administered by the FAA on a rolling basis. This takes place at around 700 testing facilities across the United States. It is typically a smart idea to schedule the test a minimum of one week before you need to take it. The majority of the testing centers are fairly small and while the demand is not overwhelming, this is the type of thing is smart to schedule ahead of time.

Anyone age 16 or older and have interest in becoming a commercial small UAS or drone pilot is eligible to take the Part 107 Knowledge Test. The person taking the test must also be proficient in English language and in a mental and physical condition to operate a small UAS in a safe manner.

This objective, multiple-choice test has 60 questions with three possible responses per question. There may be question that require visual references such as charts or airspace maps. You will need to get a minimum of 42 questions correct for a passing mark of 70 percent. The test is scheduled to last for two hours. It is a comprehensive test that is administered in a greatly controlled environment.

Are There Costs Involved?

The cost to sit the Part 107 Knowledge Test is approximately $160. However, there are a few testing centers that are the properties of PSI, which is the test provider, that only charge $96 but for the most part, the test fee is roughly $160. The funds collected for the test goes directly to the testing facility and not to the FAA. You are required to pay this cost during the process of registering to take the test, either over the phone or online.

Preparing to take the knowledge test is a serious undertaking and could be pretty costly for those who opt to pay for training as opposed to taking advantage of free online training courses.

With all its related costs, obtaining a drone license will run you a minimum of about $155 and could go up to roughly $825. The amount does not include the money paid for the device or its accessories. It also does not include the amount paid for retaking the exam in the event that you failed the first time around. The cost can be quite hefty but it is worth it for the majority of those who use it for commercial or recreational purposes.

Keeping Your Remote Pilot Certificate Current

It is essential that all pilots, those who hold Certified Remote Pilots included, ensure that their aviation knowledge is kept up to date. For those who have a Remote Pilot Certificate, you are to have finished one of the following requirements within the preceding 24 calendar months in order to operate UAVs under part 107 of the regulations:

  • Pass the recurrent (UGR or Unmanned General Recurrent) or the initial (UAG or Unmanned Aircraft General) knowledge test. If the FAA requests a copy of the recurrent or initial knowledge test report as evidence of currency, you must be able to present it.
  • If you are a holder of a part 61 pilot certificate and you have an existing flight review (part 61.56), do the recurrent online training course for the Part 107 (small UAS) Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems. In order to qualify for the online training course, you would have to be certificated already as a remote pilot and the period of two years would have to lapse between April 1 and June 30, 2020. If the FAA requests a copy of your recurrent Certificate of Achievement you must be able to provide a copy as evidence of currency.


Flying your drone can be a lot of fun as well as be a viable commercial venture. In addition, it provides individuals with the opportunity to capture remarkable videos and images that are not possible at ground level. Abiding by the rules and regulations of the FAA and taking the rights of others into consideration will go a far way toward making the experience more legal and more enjoyable. It is also wise to choose the right time of day to fly. This will assist in minimizing interaction with other individuals, while improving the quality of the video footage or images you capture.

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