Side Hustle Series: Commercial Drone Pilot (FAA 107 Certification)

This post is part of my Side Hustle Series to help you brainstorm on available opportunities to increase your side income.

Overview

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.

What is the FAA 107 sUAS (small Unmanned Aircraft System)

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:

  • Learn the Rules
  • Pass the Knowledge Tet
  • Register your Drone

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.

Learn the Rules

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:

  • Your drone must weigh less than 55 lbs (25 kg)
  • You MUST always have a Visual Line-of-Sight (VLOS) to your drone
  • You CANNOT fly over people UNLESS they are directly participating in the operation (i.e. you can’t just take your drone to a marathon event and fly over the crowds)
  • Obviously, you must yield the right of way to other aircraft (i.e. planes, helicopters, etc.)
  • You have to stay under 100 mph (87 knots)
  • You can NOT go above 400 feet above ground level (AGL)
  • The weather has to be good enough for you to have visibility of 3 miles
  • You MUST know the airspace and the rules
  • You can only fly in the daylight (you need to know when the sun rises and sets) — you are allowed to fly 30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset
  • You CANNOT use those cool First Person View (FPV) headsets as they do not satisfy the “see-and-avoid” requirements UNLESS you have a Visual Observer
  • MUST be at least 16 years old

Those are just a few that I pulled from the document so please make sure you have reviewed the FAA requirements thoroughly.

Pass the Knowledge Test

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.

  • RemotePilot101 (not an affiliate) – Although I would love for them to have an affiliate link as I highly recommend this course, they don’t offer it. It is approximately $150 for lifetime access including any updates to keep current (you have to recertify every two years). There are 10 lessons and the instructor, Jason Schappert, was named Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association for four consecutive years. This is an on-demand video training that you can do at your own pace.
  • Sporty’s Drone Study Buddy – Remote Pilot Test Prep (not an affiliate) – The test prep is a series of questions that you can use to study based on individual topics, review as flashcards, or to take a 60 question practice test. I find using the flashcards and being able to read and think about the question and then reveal the answers were the biggest help to fast track my certification. You can use the Study Buddy from the web, iOS, or Android and it costs just $20 (probably the best $20 you can spend)
Sportys Drone Study Buddy Remote Pilot

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.

FREE Drone Certification Study Guide: FAA Part 107 sUAS Test (Tony Northrup)

FAA has also listed a number of suggested resources, including

  • Airman Certification Standards
  • Knowledge Test Study Guide
  • Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge
  • Practice Exams from PSI Services Knowledge Testing Centers

You can find these resources here.

Scheduling the Exam

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.

Registering Your Drone

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.

FAA – How to Label Your Drone

Additional Things to Consider

There are a few additional things that you will want to think about and consider:

  • Should you create a LLC or a Business Entity to Protect Yourself
  • Should you purchase accidental insurance for your drone
  • Should you purchase business insurance for your business
  • Applications to help enhance your drone experience

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).

On-Demand Insurance with Verifly

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.

You can find the apps on iOS and Google Play.

Verifly app images from iOS

Drone Specific Applications

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.

  • AirMap – “AirMap is the leading global provider of aeronatutical data & services to unmanned aircraft, or drones. Use AirMap to maintain situational awareness, request digital authorization, get traffic alerts, & more.”
  • Drone Buddy – “Drone Buddy is a handy mobile app built for drone pilots. Drone buddy provides accurate wind, weather and no fly zone information. We design an intuitive windspeed dashboard into the app. Drone Buddy shows kp index, visibility, cloud cover, uv index, local sunrise and sunset time, etc.”
  • B4UFLY – “B4UFLY is the simple way for drone operators to check airspace and local advisories before taking flight. Stay compliant and contribute to safer national airspace by making yourself aware of advisories and restrictions in the airspace and local advisories around you.”
  • Autopilot – “Fly like a professional – capturing smooth, perfectly framed, and visually stunning imagery. With autonomous and semi-autonomous flight modes, Autopilot enables you to execute flight and camera control sequences that were previously too difficult or impossible to perform manually.”

Which Drone to Purchase

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:

  • Phantom 4 Pro – This is my primary drone that I use to capture those amazing shots.
  • Mavic Air 2 – This is my backup drone as well as my super portable drone that I can easily take on vacations.
  • Osmo Mobile 3 – This is the device I use when I want to capture those handheld moments.

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.

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