The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) new comprehensive regulations went into effect on August 29, 2016 for routine non-recreational use of small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) – more popularly known as “drones.” The key element to this new part 107 to CFR Title 14 is to allow commercial operation of sUAS. The FAA states in the Final Rule that “This Part 107 small UAS rule is an “enabling rule,” which effectively reduces the cost of entry into the non-recreational, non-hobby (or “commercial”) market for UAS services.”
A major requirement of the new rules is that a sUAS must operated by a person who has previously obtained a remote pilot certificate with an sUAS rating issued by the FAA prior to sUAS operation.
The FAA has established specific requirements for the pilot certification process so that a person can act as a remote pilot in control (“PIC”) of a sUAS. Just like a manned-aircraft PIC, the remote PIC of an sUAS is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that UAS. The remote PIC will have final authority over the flight.
A person acting as a remote PIC of an sUAS in the National Airspace System (NAS) under part 107 must obtain a remote pilot certificate with an sUAS rating issued by the FAA prior to sUAS operation. The remote PIC must have this certificate easily accessible during flight operations. Guidance regarding remote pilot certification is found in Chapter 6, Part 107 Subpart C, Remote Pilot Certification and on the FAA website.
The FAA summarizes the requirements for becoming a first time pilot pursuant to Part 107 as follows:
Aeronautical Knowledge Tests (Initial and Recurrent). It is important to have and retain the knowledge necessary to operate a small UAS in the NAS. This aeronautical knowledge can be obtained through self-study, taking an online training course, taking an in-person training course, or any combination thereof. The FAA has published the Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Airman Certification Standard (https://www.faa.gov/training_testing/testing/acs/) that provides the necessary reference material.
Note: The below information regarding initial and recurrent knowledge tests apply to persons who do not hold a current part 61 airman certificate.
To become a pilot you must:
- Be at least 16 years old
- Be able to read, speak, write, and understand English (exceptions may be made if the person is unable to meet one of these requirements for a medical reason, such as hearing impairment)
- Be in a physical and mental condition to safely operate a small UAS
- Pass the initial aeronautical knowledge exam at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center
Pass the initial aeronautical knowledge test – initial knowledge test areas include:
- Applicable regulations relating to small unmanned aircraft system rating privileges, limitations, and flight operation
- Airspace classification and operating requirements, and flight restrictions affecting small unmanned aircraft operation
- Aviation weather sources and effects of weather on small unmanned aircraft performance
- Small unmanned aircraft loading and performance
- Emergency procedures
- Crew resource management
- Radio communication procedures
- Determining the performance of small unmanned aircraft
- Physiological effects of drugs and alcohol
- Aeronautical decision-making and judgment
- Airport operations
- Maintenance and preflight inspection procedure
The FAA provides a list of suggested study materials on its website at https://www.faa.gov/uas/getting_started/fly_for_work_business/becoming_a_pilot/
The materials are comprehensive and include knowledge test sample questions.
Remote piloting of an sUAS is a serious responsibility, as the foregoing demonstrates.