Do You Need to Get Drone Certified?

Aloha! Am I writing this from Hawaii? I wish, but no. I’m sitting at my desk in Los Angeles, dreaming of Hawaii - positive thoughts into the Universe, people, something I’m not good at, but practicing.  In this blog, I’m going to talk about my big drone adventure, specifically my path to becoming a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Part 107 certified drone (uav, unmanned aerial vehicle) pilot. 

I’m Rebecca, and for the past seven years I’ve been a post-producer working in the non-scripted genre. In other words, I spend a tremendous amount of time behind a desk and in dark rooms. It also means living a freelance life, which can be challenging when it comes to creating a continuous cash flow. Adding to your skills and providing more services, however, always helps. This begs the question:

Why get drone certified? (a.k.a. FAA Part 107 certification)

I’ve always wanted to be a pilot. So, this is a way of blending a childhood dream with my career. And since droning usually involves recording footage with a camera, it could get me out from behind my desk...big bonus points in my book. But there’s more, and this is the important part: being Part 107 certified is the only way to LEGALLY make money flying your drone!

If you fly a drone to make money, you should get FAA Part 107 certified.

If you fly a drone to make money, you should get FAA Part 107 certified.

You can fly your drone for fun as a hobbyist without a Part 107 certification, but if you want to charge people for your services, this certification is required. I’ve heard the consequences can be severe for those who don't follow this rule. According to a pilot I recently spoke with, a company in New York was fined up to $75k for getting caught flying drones commercially without proper certification. So to all the rule benders out there, don’t do it! Plus, the certification is worth it - for safety and the knowledge you'll gain. You’re learning aeronautics, so if you get your certification you’re kind of a “junior pilot” of sorts. 

Before we proceed, I want to make this clear, I’m a beginner. I’m writing this as I go about studying for my certification.  Some people fly drones for years as a hobby and then get certified. I am jumping in with both feet. I don’t even have my first official drone yet.  So if you take this journey with me, it’s from the very beginning. That also means, take what I say with a grain of salt. Do your research too and if I get anything wrong, I’m happy to correct it. Just let me know.  Now that we’ve cleared that up, we can move on.

What to expect:

Being able to fly your drone commercially got a lot easier in August 2016 when the FAA created this certification to commercialize droning. It used to be much harder, lots of applications and waivers involved.

To get Part 107 certified, you need to study for and pass a 60-question multiple choice test that costs $150. You also need to make an appointment at an official testing center to take the exam. You are allotted two hours to take the exam. In doing my initial research about drones, I found this article on CNET very helpful. It breaks down the whole process clearly and concisely.

Studying is essential. Unless you have previous aviation knowledge, you’re going to need to take some time studying this material. The FAA has a Part 107 preparatory study guide and the 3DR Solo website also has very detailed information to help you, including links to the FAA guide here.

Studying for this exam can seem a little daunting because it's a lot of aeronautic and aviation information, some of which is helpful and some of which you will never use when flying a drone. But you’re going to have to go into robot mode and memorize this stuff for the test. To help you, there are online classes, and even schools, where they prepare you for the test and physically teach you to fly drones - but of course, there’s a fee. So far, I’ve seen fees anywhere from $135 to $1,450.  Supposedly there are YouTube videos out there for free, but I haven’t found them yet. It comes down to how much money you want to invest and how much time you have, which brings us to the next point.

How long will it take to get certified?

I spoke with a certified pilot recently, and based on our conversation, it really depends on you. If you’re in a hurry, maybe investing in a course is the way to go, but if you’ve got time, then do it on your own and study the FAA materials for a few months. I was told that if you study a little bit every night on your own, using the study guides and maybe watching some YouTube videos, you can be ready in a few months, but it all depends on your schedule. Other factors to consider are testing centers and scheduling a date to take the test. Are they all booked three weeks in advance? Definitely give that CNET article a look to find the nearest testing center and the next available test date. That might influence your decision on how fast you go. 

Also, beware of brokers trying to charge you before taking the test. Wait to pay for the test at the testing center on the day of the test.

For me, I’d like to get certified sooner rather than later, especially since I’ve been told there is talk about adding a practical exam at some point in the future. So we’ll see how quickly we get this done. This will definitely be an adventure - one that makes me a little nervous, but mostly excited. Plus there are so many new and exciting ways drones are being used. It’s incredible. 

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me by email, 
I’ll be writing more drone-related blogs for Premiere Gal once I get more information. 

(P.S. Don’t be stupid. Never drink and drone, folks...seriously. Don’t do it and don’t be a peeping Tom or fly in restricted airspace. Use common sense, so we can all have some fun.)

Rebecca Bozzo grew up in Northern California.  She's a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and has spent the last 7 years (going on 8) working in Los Angeles in the television industry as a post producer in the non-scripted genre. She's been lucky enough to work on an Emmy®winning show and a feature film selected to the Sundance film festival. On a personal note, Rebecca loves good food and drinks of all kinds. She's a dedicated San Francisco Giants fan, a classic film aficionado and a devoted pet parent. Her dachshund Hershey is spoiled rotten, but her best friend in the whole world. Being a pilot was a childhood dream. Flying with her Uncle in his Stinson, Mariah were some of her best memories. So learning how to pilot drones is the next best thing. Cheers. Happy Flying.