Effective today, the FAA has implemented part 107 of their new code, which establishes rules pertaining to the flight of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones). The new rules will govern all drone flight, but mostly anyone who seeks to use a drone for aerial cinematography, and do it for a living, is going to have to get certified. Let’s go through a refresher of the rules.
The rules are divided up into two categories: Hobbyist and commercial. The hobbyist, quite ironically, has the least amount of rules, mostly governing registering your drone with the FAA and then affixing your registration number to the drones so they can be identified (and you fined) should the drone fly away on you. Registration is required for all drones meeting the following:
- Register any drone online weighing more than 0.55 lbs. to 55lbs, including equipment like a GoPro. Drones that weigh over 55 lbs. require a mailed in form.
- After registration, label the drones with your assigned registration number. You only need one number for your entire fleet.
- All hobbyist drone pilots must be a U.S. citizen or a legal permanent resident and 13 years or older. If you’re under 13, someone over the age of 13 must register the unmanned aircraft.
- Price to register is $5
In addition to that requirement, all hobbyists much follow these rules while operating their drones:
- Fly at or below 400 feet.
- Always keep your drone within sight, even if you fly with a first person viewer
- Never fly within five miles of an airports or near any aircraft
- Never fly over groups of people.
- Never fly over stadiums or sports events.
- Never fly near emergency response efforts such as fires.
- Never fly under the influence.
- Be aware of airspace requirements in your area.
For commercial pilots, the requirements are a bit more complicated and require all commercial UAV pilots to become certified, although the FAA has decided to come short of requiring a recreational pilot’s license. This is too bad because learning to fly an airplane and understand how aerial vehicles interact with the environment would be an important skill to have. But the FAA has instead opted for commercial certification, meaning all you need to do is pass a general aeronautics test.
Requirements for commercial certification include:
- Minimum age of a commercial drone pilot is 16 years old.
- Pass the initial aeronautical knowledge test given by one of the FAA-approved testing center listed here.
- Pass a background check by Transportation Safety Administration (TSA).
- After passing the remote pilot test, complete FAA Form 8710-13 for a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating through the IACRA.
The test is a 60 question multiple choice exam covering general aviation knowledge and include identification of visual references on maps and charts. A grade of 70% or better is required to pass. Here’s a few links to resources to help you prepare:
- Airmen Certification Standards
- Knowledge Test Instructions
- Knowledge Test Study Guide
- Knowledge Test Sample Questions
- Part 107 Advisory Circular
- Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge
In addition, your certification is biannual, meaning that you will have to take the test every 2 years to keep your certification current. The cost to take the aeronautical knowledge exam is $150, and you can expect your certification to come in the mail in 6-8 weeks. This covers the paperwork and background check phase and users are advised not to fly commercially during this period.
The good news is that if you already have a pilot’s license under 14 CFR Part 61 of the FAA rules, and have successfully completed your biannual flight review with the last 24 months, you can take an online course that covers the requirements and rules for part 107 to add the commercial certification to your jacket without the need to pass the test.
Once you’ve passed your exam and become certified as a commercial drone pilot, you will be required to operate your drone under similar conditions as hobbyists:
- Only fly in Class G airspace*
- Must keep the aircraft in sight (visual line-of-sight)*
- Must fly under 400 feet*
- Must fly during the day*
- Must fly at or below 100 mph*
- Must yield right of way to manned aircraft*
- Must NOT fly over people*
- Must NOT fly from a moving vehicle*
- Register your drone with the FAA and place your registration number where it can be easily read on the drone itself
The FAA does recognize, however, that there may be conditions which require drone operations outside of the rules above, chiefly the ones with an asterix. To that end, and to satisfy users who must operate their UAV beyond these restrictions, the FAA has created a waiver claim process under Section 333, with which to receive special permission. To date, and the FAA has already granted 76 such waivers. Here’s a video that outlines the process:
To receive a Section 333 waiver, pilots must fill out this form and submit it for approval. The process takes about 90 days.
Lastly, the FAA has created an app which all drone pilots, commercial or hobbyist, should download and use regularly when flying. It’s called B4UFly, and it’s available through App Store for iOS [affiliate link] and Google Play store for Android. The app provides information necessary to pilot your drone including whether the area you want to fly is in the clear for drone operation, as well as:
- A clear “status” indicator that immediately informs the operator about the current or planned location. For example, it shows flying in the Special Flight Rules Area around Washington, D.C. is prohibited.
- Information on the parameters that drive the status indicator
- A “Planner Mode” for future flights in different locations
- Informative, interactive maps with filtering options
- Links to other FAA UAS resources and regulatory information
There’s also the FAA website You can also consult Know Before You Fly.
The most important thing is to simply use common sense and follow the rules. Don’t be one ‘that one pilot’ who thinks they can take their DJI Phantom and live stream a brush fire in 4K from the skies. That’s a sure ticket to getting your certification, and your right to pilot a drone pulled, with a nice hefty fine for your trouble.
The new rules take effect immediately.