This post is part of my Side Hustle Series to help you brainstorm on available opportunities to increase your side income.
If you own a drone or are thinking about purchasing a drone and want to offer your services to paying customers, you are no longer a hobbyist drone operator but will be required to become a commercial drone operator. As a commercial drone operator, you will have the ability to work and get paid for engagements such as Real Estate, Weddings, Aerial Photos and Videos, Events, etc.
For less than $250 (and maybe even FREE), plus the cost of the Drone, you can become a Certified Done Pilot in about 10 to 30 days.
In order to try and ensure safety and security in the shared airspace, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has put together a series of rules, restrictions, responsibilities and requirements in order to fly a drone as a hobbyist or as a commercial operator. To become certified, you will have to take the certification test. When you become a Certified FAA 107 sUAS drone operator, you get additional freedoms and some additional restrictions. The process to become a Certified Remote Pilot is fairly straightforward:
We’ll do a high-level review of these, but you will always want to check the official FAA Website or the FAA Certificated Remote Pilots include Commercial Operators page. After we cover these three topics, I’ll include information around protecting you and your business that may be of interest to you.
The rules don’t change often but it is always advisable to check in periodically to see if the FAA has made any recent adjustments. As an example, the latest posted rules document (from June 2016) can be found here. Here are just some of the things you will want to be aware of:
Those are just a few that I pulled from the document so please make sure you have reviewed the FAA requirements thoroughly.
Since the time I took the test, the FAA website has expanded and added some additional content and resources. Before I dig into a few of these, I want to provide the two resources that I leveraged and was able to take the test in less than two weeks.
There are a number of free resources that you can find across the web including a number of YouTube videos. As an example, while I was researching for resources before I took the test, many highlighted Tony Northrup’s 1 hr 45 minute video study guide which I watched before purchasing the RemotePilot101 course and the Sporty’s Study Buddy.
FAA has also listed a number of suggested resources, including
You can find these resources here.
Prior to scheduling the exam, you will need to obtain an FAA Tracking Number (FTN) by creating an Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) profile. You can begin the registration process by going online to IACRA to create a new user name and password. Make sure you review the IACRA New User Guide.
When you are ready to schedule the exam, you will be required to take the test from an FAA-approved Knowledge Testing Center. You can schedule your exam online from the PSI Exams website.
Once you pass the exam, you’ll have to go back to the IACRA website to complete the FAA Form 8710-13 for a remote pilot certificate.
One more multi-step process – you have to register your drone with the FAA which will cost you $5 and is valid for 3 years. Head over to the FAA Drone Zone, Register, and complete the registration process.
Lastly, you will need to label your drone. This is an update from when I originally had to register my drone. In the past, all you had to do was print the paper label and you could stick it in the battery compartment. Today, your marking needs to be visible and on the outside of the drone.
There are a few additional things that you will want to think about and consider:
I’ll leave all of the business questions for you, your lawyer, and your accountant. I would suggest purchasing accidental insurance for your drone; especially if you are a first time drone operator. You never know when that branch just happens to get in the way and causes your drone to fall 200 feet from the sky (yes, that has happened to me).
For the insurance for your business. Again, I’ll primarily leave this as a discussion for you, your lawyer, and your account. But, there is one application/company/service I do want to highlight and it is called Verifly. Verifly offers on-demand Aviation Liability Insurance. It will allow you to pick your flight location, flight time, and will provide you with a proof-of-insurance certificate if required for your engagement. It can cover you up to $10 million in liability insurance for legal liability for injury to people or property damage. The other big benefit is that you don’t have to have this coverage 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. It gives you price freedom for as low as $10 an hour with no annual commitment.
I’ve personally used this service a few times to ensure I had insurance coverage for a few engagements I conducted over the years… the ones that have more risk when flying over buildings, automobiles, or people. Majority of my flights are in wooded areas and I don’t use it for those scenarios. I’ve also been fortunate where I’ve never had to cash in on the policy so I can’t speak on the process in the event of an issue.
Here are a few additional applications (some free, some paid) that you may want evaluate. Search for them in the Apple or Google app stores. I have used these from time-to-time and have captured the primary description as provided from the iOS app.
This is the most expensive section on being a Certified Drone Pilot and one that I cannot specifically tell you which drone to purchase. There are several drones that are on the market that can help you go from amateur status to a semi-professional in little time. For the work that I do, I have purchased two DJI Drones and their Handheld device:
There are many drone options and additional accessories that may be more appropriate for you. Check out their online store for a complete catalogue and enjoy DJI’s Mavic video.