Part 107 Frequently Asked Questions
Drone flight, particularly the commercial variety, has now become more regulated than ever. While this is a good step in the interest of airspace safety, many drone pilots still find themselves not able to fully grasp the relevant laws on commercial drone flight.
If you’re an aspiring commercial drone pilot, then this FAQ was made just for you. We’ll cover everything from the basics to the more nuanced issues – how to get your Part 107 drone license, the relevant flight rules and restrictions, and how the Part 107 rules can change moving forward.
- What is Part 107?
- What is a Part 107 drone license?
- Do I need to get Part 107 certification if I have a Part 61 pilot certificate?
- Do I need to get a Part 107 drone license?
- What rules do I need to follow if I’m just flying drones for fun?
- Do I need to register my drone when flying under Part 107 rules?
- What are the qualifications for earning a Part 107 drone license?
- What is the Part 107 knowledge test?
- How much will it cost to get a Part 107 drone license?
- What is the FAA Tracking Number (FTN), and how do I get one?
- How do I sign up for the knowledge test? Where do I take the test?
- Do I need to show a medical certificate to apply for the drone license?
- What topics does the Part 107 knowledge test cover?
- How do I prepare for the knowledge test?
- What does it take to pass the Part 107 knowledge test?
- How can Pilot Institute help me prepare for the knowledge test?
- What happens on the day of the knowledge test? Is there anything I can bring?
- What happens after I pass the knowledge test?
- What happens if I fail?
- For how long does the Part 107 drone license remain valid? How is it renewed?
- What is drone insurance, and should I get one?
- What is controlled airspace? Can I fly in controlled airspace with my Part 107 license?
- What is LAANC, and how do I use it?
- Is there a public database of all Part 107-licensed drone pilots?
- Can I fly a drone that weighs more than 55 pounds with my Part 107 drone license?
- Can I fly my drone at night under Part 107 rules?
- Is it possible to fly my drone over a crowd of people?
- What is the altitude limit for drone flight under Part 107 rules?
- Do the Part 107 rules prohibit drone flight indoors?
- How can I apply for a Part 107 waiver?
- Final thoughts
What is Part 107?
In June 2016, the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) started the implementation of the rules under Part 107 of Chapter 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations. The 624-page document known officially as the “Small UAS Rule” was the first piece of legislation that provided legal guidelines for the drone operators who intended to offer commercial drone-based services.
Before Part 107 was created, commercial drone pilots had to apply for a Section 333 exemption. This was a much longer process and had more stringent requirements. With the wide acceptance of Part 107 among the drone community and the improvements that the FAA has made on the rules throughout the past few years, it’s safe to say that Part 107 is now considered the new standard legal framework for commercial drone flight.
What is a Part 107 drone license?
One of the most important provisions of Part 107 is the creation of the standards for the Part 107 remote pilot certificate, more commonly referred to as the Part 107 drone license. This certification is the minimum requirement for drone pilots before they can legally fly drones for profit.
The FAA imposed the requirement to get a drone license so that a standard level of proficiency can be maintained for commercial drone pilots. It also allowed the FAA to maintain a database of licensed commercial drone pilots. The database is mostly available to the public, with the exception of licensed drone pilots who choose to have their details hidden.
Do I need to get Part 107 certification if I have a Part 61 pilot certificate?
If you have been granted a certificate under 14 CFR Part 61, you will have already gone through a far more intensive certification process than what the FAA requires of commercial drone pilots. You will still need to get a Part 107 remote pilot certificate, but the process and requirement will be different.
For this exception to apply, the Part 61-certified pilot must be current, meaning that they have completed a flight review within the last 24 months. If you satisfy this requirement, the next step is to sign up for an account on the FAA Safety Team website and complete the ALC-451 Part 107 Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems course. This drone-focused course only takes about two hours to finish with just a couple of videos and a short quiz at the end.
After completing the course, you will need to sign up for an account in the Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) website and fill in the 8710-13 electronic form. Make sure to specify that you are applying for a Part 107 remote pilot certificate. Print out this form and have it validated, along with your current flight review, the certificate of completion of the online course, and a photo ID. Any of the following entities can do the validation:
- FAA Flight Standards District Office
- Airman certificate representative (ACR)
- FAA-designated pilot examiner (DPE)
- FAA-certified flight instructor (CFI)
The FAA representative will issue a temporary certificate to you while you wait a few weeks for the permanent certificate to arrive by regular mail. The certificate is valid only for 24 months, after which you will need to take another online course – the Part 107 Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Recurrent. Take note that you will still need to have finished a flight review in the last 24 months for you to renew your Part 107 remote pilot certificate.
Do I need to get a Part 107 drone license?
A Part 107 drone license is a requirement if you’re planning to do any sort of commercial drone flight. This includes drone-based services for which you will receive compensation or any drone-related work that is used to advance or aid a business.
Some examples of commercial drone work are easy to identify. If you take aerial photos using your drone and sell them online, then that certainly falls within the commercial umbrella. The same can be said if you offer your services for on-site drone photography, remote sensing, or mapping.
However, there are also examples of commercial drone operations that are a bit less pronounced. Take note that the FAA considers any type of drone activity that aids a business as commercial in nature. This includes using a drone to survey a property that you intend to put on the real estate market. Taking aerial photos and using them as advertising material for your business is also considered as profit-generating.
If, however, you’re flying a drone purely for fun, then you don’t need to get a Part 107 drone license. You do not need to follow the Part 107 rules, but there is a separate set of guidelines that recreational drone pilots need to comply with.
One final thing to take note is that your intent when flying a drone needs to be determined before your drone takes off. This only means that you cannot be flying under Part 107 rules and decide mid-flight that you’re just going to fly for fun. These two sets of rules are not meant to be swapped around when convenient.
What rules do I need to follow if I’m just flying drones for fun?
The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 established a set of flight guidelines for recreational drone pilots. These guidelines aren’t anything new – they are the same ones that have been established by community-based organizations over the years. However, this move legitimizes these rules as law.
Many of the guidelines for recreational drone pilots directly overlap with Part 107 flight restrictions. They are also pretty basic – don’t fly your drone above 400 feet altitude, give way to manned aircraft, don’t fly directly over groups of people, and fly only within visual line-of-sight.
Do I need to register my drone when flying under Part 107 rules?
Yes, all drones used for commercial flight operations need to be registered with the FAA, regardless of the weight. This is in contrast with the rule for recreational drone registration, which is only required for drones that weigh more than 0.55 pounds. If you’re flying under Part 107 rules, your drone must be registered no matter how small or light it is.
The registration process is simple. Just sign up for an account in the FAA DroneZone website, provide the details that it requires (your name, contact details, drone make and model), pay the $5 registration fee, and wait for the unique serial number which will be sent to you by e-mail. If you have multiple drones, the Part 107 rules require that you register each one of your drones separately and pay the registration fee multiple times.
The final step in registration is to mark your drones with their associated serial numbers. The FAA requires serial numbers to be marked in a manner that is permanent and easily visible upon visual inspection. This rule was made in the interest of the safety of emergency responders who may be in the scene of a drone-related incident. Markings can be done using a permanent marker, stickers, or by etching the serial number directly into the body of the drone.
What are the qualifications for earning a Part 107 drone license?
To qualify for a Part 107 license, you must first satisfy these three requirements:
- Be at least 16 years of age
- Be able to read, write, speak, and understand English
- Be physically and mentally fit to fly a drone
If you qualify based on the conditions, then you are eligible to take the Part 107 knowledge test, which is essentially the biggest hurdle to overcome before you can get the drone license.
What is the Part 107 knowledge test?
The Part 107 knowledge test is a 60-item multiple-choice test that is designed to assess the level of knowledge of drone pilots with aeronautical topics and other related subjects. It’s far from something that you can pass without suitable preparation. You will have to learn how to read sectional charts, identify airspace classes, interpret METAR weather reports, familiarize yourself with standard radio communications language, know how weather conditions affect drone performance, and be able to do a proper pre-inspection of your drone prior to any operations.
How much will it cost to get a Part 107 drone license?
Signing up for the knowledge test will cost you a $160 testing fee, which goes to the company that administers the test. This is the bare minimum that you need to pay, although you’ve probably already spent a small amount to register your drone.
Anything on top of the testing fee is purely optional. You may sign up for a paid training course to help you prepare for the knowledge test. These paid training courses could cost less than $200 to as much as $600. There’s no need to go for the most expensive options – even the cheap ones offer enough content to almost guarantee that you’ll pass the test.
There’s an extra cost that you will want to avoid – taking the test again should you fail on your first try. Unfortunately, the testing fee is non-refundable, even if you fail. If you want to take the test again, you will have to fork over another $160.
What is the FAA Tracking Number (FTN), and how do I get one?
The FAA Tracking Number (FTN) was a recently implemented measure that helps the FAA streamline their pilot certification processes. In the case of Part 107, drone pilots must secure an FTN before they sign up for the knowledge test. Your FTN will become permanently associated with you over your whole career in aviation and will be quoted on all your relevant documents.
To get your FTN, all you have to do is to sign up for an account in the Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) website. Upon the successful creation of an account, you should be assigned a unique FTN. Write this down as you’ll be needing it to sign up for the Part 107 knowledge test.
How do I sign up for the knowledge test? Where do I take the test?
The FAA has tapped Computer Assisted Training Service, Inc. (CATS) to administer the Part 107 knowledge test. To sign up, simply go to the CATS website and use their online facility to pick your preferred testing center. CATS has a network of more than 700 FAA-certified testing centers distributed across the United States, so you should be able to find one that’s conveniently close to you.
Once you have picked a testing center, take down its contact details, and get in touch with them to schedule your knowledge test. We recommend picking a schedule that gives you enough time to prepare for the test – about two or three weeks of preparation should be enough.
Do I need to show a medical certificate to apply for the drone license?
In contrast to pilots who want to get licensed to fly a manned aircraft, drone pilots are not required to show any medical certificate to prove that they are physically and mentally fit to fly a drone. Instead, the FAA trusts drone pilots to do a self-assessment of their medical condition.
Examples of conditions that could be considered debilitating for drone flight include blurred vision, loss of dexterity, an inability to communicate, or a severe migraine. If you have a condition that prevents you from driving a car or operating heavy machinery, then you might also not be fit to fly a drone. When in doubt, it is best to consult a physician for professional advice.
What topics does the Part 107 knowledge test cover?
To help drone pilots prepare for the Part 107 knowledge test, the FAA has published a rough distribution of the topics that will be covered in the test:
|Topic||Percent of test coverage|
|Aircraft operations||35 – 45%|
|Airspace and requirements||15 – 25%|
|Regulations||15 – 25%|
|Weather||11 – 16%|
|Loading and performance||7 – 11%|
Using this breakdown, you can be smart about how you allocate your time and effort spent on preparation. For instance, you may want to dedicate roughly half of the time studying aircraft operations, including how to read maps and charts and learning standard radio communications language. On the other extreme, spend just enough time reading up on drone loading and how hazardous pilot attitudes and physiological conditions can adversely affect the performance of a drone pilot.
How do I prepare for the knowledge test?
There are three things that you need to improve your chances of passing the Part 107 knowledge test: enough time, focused dedication, and the right study materials. We’ve already mentioned setting aside two or three weeks for the preparation and budgeting the time in a manner that puts into consideration how the different topics are distributed in the test.
Dedication to the process of preparation is a matter of priority. You will almost definitely have something else going on in your life. Whether that’s work, school, or household chores, having to prepare for the knowledge test will certainly cut into the time that you spend doing the usual stuff you do. The good news is that even just an hour spent reading up or watching videos is enough for you to cover all the topics for the knowledge test. You even have the option of signing up for a training course that you can access via your smartphone so you can tackle some lectures during your morning commute.
Speaking of training courses, signing up for a paid training course would probably be the most reliable method for you to get the content that you need to study for the knowledge test. These training courses have been prepared by experts in aviation, weather, and drone-related laws, so they know exactly what you need to learn. These paid training courses also do a great job of keeping their content updates, so you can feel fairly confident that what you learn is up to date with the current changes in drone technology and legislation.
There’s no single path that will ensure your success in the Part 107 knowledge test. You may be able to go through a single training course in two or three days, or you may have more stuff going on in your life and need more than three weeks. The learning method that works best for another person may not be compatible with you. What matters is that you figure out what works early on and stick with it.
What does it take to pass the Part 107 knowledge test?
To pass the knowledge test, you must answer at least 70% of all the questions correctly. This corresponds to 42 out of the 60 questions.
How can Pilot Institute help me prepare for the knowledge test?
Pilot Institute is offering a Part 107 Commercial Drone Pilot Course, which consists of 12.5 hours of instructional videos, 3 practice exams, and more than 250 questions related to the lessons. All the lessons are accessible online via a computer or mobile phone, so you can practically continue learning anywhere. At the end of the course, you will be given a certificate of completion and an 11-page illustrated cheat sheet so you can do quick reviews right before the test.
The course normally sells for $249 but is available right now at a discounted rate of $174. This is an incredible value considering that it gives lifetime access to the contents of the course which are periodically updated to keep up with the latest changes. Moreover, you gain access to private study groups where you can ask questions from fellow students or get one-on-one support from the course instructor.
Lastly, Pilot Institute is so confident that you’ll pass the knowledge test after taking their training course that will pay you the $150 testing fee should you fail the test on your first try. This guarantee virtually eliminates all of the risks involved in signing up for a paid training course.
If you want a training course that is more useful in the long run, then you might be interested in Pilot Institute’s Commercial Drone Pilot Bundle. For only $449, this 2-in-1 bundle teaches you the essentials of Part 107 to pass your knowledge test and the basics of successfully running a drone-based business. With a total of 20 hours of easy-to-follow instructional videos, you can consider this your first big investment towards building a career as a professional drone pilot. Best of all, lifetime access to the course is available right now at a discounted rate of $274.
What happens on the day of the knowledge test? Is there anything I can bring?
On the day of your test, make sure that you are at the testing center a few minutes ahead of your scheduled timeslot. Make sure to bring a valid government-issued photo ID so that they can verify your identity. You will NOT be allowed to bring your mobile phone inside the testing center, so it’s best to leave it in your car or to not bring it at all. You will, however, be allowed to bring a basic calculator and a magnifying glass to help you see the charts and maps better.
You will be brought to a closed room where you will be taking the knowledge test using a dedicated computer workstation. The testing center will provide you with sheets of paper and a pencil to do long-hand calculations plus a copy of the Airman Knowledge Testing Supplement Book.
You will be closely monitored by security cameras over the course of the knowledge test. The test needs to be completed within two hours.
What happens after I pass the knowledge test?
Depending on the testing center, they may reveal to you the results of your knowledge test instantly. However, the official results will only be available in two or three days when they have been uploaded to the FAA website.
If you are successful, your Airman Knowledge Test Report (AKTR) should show the grade that you got and have a reference to your FTN.
You will then have to go back to your IACRA account and file an application for the Part 107 remote pilot certificate. Your successful test results should already be synced to your account.
Before you can be granted your drone license, you will have to go through a vetting process done by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Once the TSA background check is done, you should receive a Temporary Certificate via email. Print this out and keep it with you whenever you do commercial drone operations. Meanwhile, your permanent certificate should be making its way to you by regular mail.
What happens if I fail?
There will always be a few who fail any test. If it so happens that it’s not your day yet, don’t feel discouraged just yet. The FAA will give you a report that summarizes which knowledge areas you can improve on. Your incorrect responses will be appended by codes that refer to the Airman Certification Standard (ACS), so you can easily identify the subject areas to focus your further efforts.
Anyone who fails the Part 107 knowledge test has the option of retaking it after 14 days. There is no limit to the number of times that any single person can take the knowledge test. Unfortunately, the $150 testing fee will not be refunded.
For how long does the Part 107 drone license remain valid? How is it renewed?
The Part 107 drone license technically does not expire. However, the privileges of flying drones commercially that were granted to you when you passed the knowledge test are only valid for 24 months. This means that you will have to take a recurrent knowledge test to renew these privileges.
The FAA has been quite adamant in imposing a renewal process for the Part 107 drone license, mainly because they believe that knowledge of the relevant concepts and laws tend to erode over time, especially since not all drone pilots exercise their privileges regularly. Doing a revalidation of the pilot’s knowledge also gives the FAA an opportunity to communicate changes to the Part 107 rules.
The recurrent knowledge test is also administered by CATS, and the process of signing up is no different. You will also have to pay another $160 for the testing fee.
The good news is that the recurrent knowledge test is shorter and a little easier than the initial knowledge test. Instead of 60 multiple-choice questions, the items of the recurrent knowledge test have been pared down to just 40. You will only be given 90 minutes to complete the test and must get at least 70% of the answers correctly to pass.
The scope of topics of the recurrent knowledge test has also been reduced. More specifically, two subject areas – Loading and Performance, and Weather – will no longer be included. This should lift a huge burden off your shoulders as far as test preparations go. If you signed up for the Pilot Institute Part 107 course in the past, you could simply review the material to refresh your knowledge. After all, PilotInstitute offers lifetime access to the course once you sign up.
You will be issued a new AKTR once you pass the recurrent knowledge test. The new AKTR is proof that you have renewed your privileges as a commercial drone pilot. Keep the test results with you whenever you conduct any commercial drone operations, as no new drone license will be provided.
What is drone insurance, and should I get one?
Assuming that you’ve got your Part 107 drone license and you’re taking the steps to start your drone-based career or business, getting drone insurance should one of your top priorities. Much like any other type of insurance, this will protect your business from failing due to unforeseen financial obligations. To be clear, Part 107 does NOT require commercial drone pilots to get any type of insurance. However, doing so is simply good business sense.
There are three types of drone insurance policies to consider:
- Hull insurance – This type of insurance policy provides protection for the drone itself, arguably the most important physical asset of your business. Depending on the circumstance, a drone hull insurance policy will pay for the repair or replacement of your drone should it get damaged. The premium you’ll need to pay for drone hull insurance will typically depend on the market value of your drone.
- Liability insurance – Having liability insurance is practically a requirement for commercial drone pilots and could save you thousands of dollars should your drone cause any heavy property damage or personal injury. Liability insurance will cover the costs that you are liable to should you get into any drone-related accident. You can apply for any amount of coverage for this policy depending on how risky you perceive your operations are, but take note that a high coverage will also demand higher premiums.
- Payload insurance – If you work with an expensive payload such as special sensors or high-end cameras, then you might also want to get payload insurance. As its name implies, this policy is similar to drone hull insurance but applies only to your drone’s payload. It should also be possible to bundle both the drone and payload in a single insurance policy.
Getting insurance may seem like an unnecessary expense, but you will almost certainly regret not getting it when something wrong happens. Insurance also reduces your risk profile as a service provider. It’s so important that some clients may outright refuse to work with you if you don’t at least have liability insurance.
What is controlled airspace? Can I fly in controlled airspace with my Part 107 license?
Even with a Part 107 drone license, you can’t just fly your drone anywhere. Your biggest concern should be controlled airspace. These are basically pre-defined areas that regularly receive a high density of air traffic from commercial and private aircraft. By regulating the movement of drones in controlled airspace, the FAA is able to prevent close encounters between drones and manned aircraft.
Controlled airspace typically occurs in areas around airports. There are different types of controlled airspace, depending on the air traffic expected for each area. Depending on the classification, controlled airspace can have different shapes and sizes. If you’re unsure about whether or not you’re flying in controlled airspace, it’s best to consult a sectional chart or any of a number of drone flight mobile apps such as B4UFLY.
By default, any type of drone flight is prohibited in controlled airspace. However, Part 107-licensed drone pilots have the option of requesting for an authority to fly in controlled airspace, subject to approval by the FAA, and the relevant air traffic control (ATC) personnel. Back in the day, requesting for such an approval would take at least a few weeks. Fortunately, we now have the LAANC system.
What is LAANC, and how do I use it?
The Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) was a system introduced by the FAA in 2017 and developed with several stakeholders from the drone community. Through LAANC, both commercial and recreational drone pilots can file requests to fly in controlled airspace directly to the FAA and receive almost instant responses.
LAANC can be accessed by Part 107-licensed drone pilots through several FAA-approved service suppliers. There are now about a dozen companies that offer the service, such as Airmap and Kittyhawk. We expect this list to grow longer as LAANC becomes a more established system.
Approval through LAANC can be done through any of the FAA-approved software or mobile apps. If you are flying under Part 107 rules, you will need to provide the location of your planned drone flight missions, the boundaries of the area you intend to fly in, the altitude ceiling, the time and date of flight, your contact details, and your drone’s serial number.
After filing a request, it should only take a few minutes or seconds to receive a response via text message. The response should highlight the allowed parameters for your drone flight. The FAA also recommends keeping your lines of communication open whenever you apply for flight in controlled airspace, just in case they need to get in touch with you quickly.
Is there a public database of all Part 107-licensed drone pilots?
The FAA Registry is a publicly accessible database of all FAA airmen, including licensed drone pilots under Part 107. This allows potential clients and employers to verify the status of the Part 107 certification of any drone pilot. To make a query, you only need to have the surname of the person you are looking for, although you can refine the results with more personal details (i.e. date of birth or certification number).
Take note that may be a delay of up to 90 days between the time when a drone pilot receives their certification and when their details become available in the registry. Licensed pilots can also elect to opt-out of publishing their home address in the database, and this can affect whether they show up in the search results.
Can I fly a drone that weighs more than 55 pounds with my Part 107 drone license?
No, Part 107-licensed drone pilots are only allowed to fly drones with a maximum weight of 55 pounds. This weight limit includes any payload that your drone may be carrying. Right now, your only option, if you want to fly a drone heavier than 55 pounds, is to apply for Section 333 exemption. This is a much more stringent process. For starters, you’ll need to Airman’s Certificate with at least a recreation level certification. You’ll also have to provide a medical certificate proving that you are physically and mentally fit to fly a drone.
Registration of a drone that weighs more than 55 pounds also cannot be done through the FAA DroneZone portal. Instead, you’ll have to go through a more old-fashioned, paper-based registration process. Aside from providing the make and model of your drone, you will have to provide details about its maximum takeoff weight and engine type and submit an affidavit that establishes the ownership of the aircraft. It’s certainly a huge undertaking, but a 55-pound drone is vastly different from the usual drones that we can see in the market today.
Can I fly my drone at night under Part 107 rules?
Section 107.29 on Daylight Operation states that drone pilots “are allowed to fly during daylight or in twilight (30 minutes before official sunrise and 30 minutes after official sunset, local time) with appropriate anti-collision lighting.”
The rule explicitly states that Part 107-licensed drone pilots are only allowed to fly during daylight, with a small window given at twilight but only if the drone has been outfitted with anti-collision lights. Taken at face value, this means that flying drones at night for commercial reasons is prohibited by default.
This has been a massive point of contention between the FAA and commercial drone pilots in the past few years. Professional drone pilots have argued that this rule makes them very inflexible in accepting paid drone jobs that require them to fly at night. Although the FAA grants waivers for flying at night through the DroneZone portal, this is a process that could take a few months to complete. In such a fast-paced industry, having to put off a job for a few months is simply unacceptable.
Thankfully, the FAA seems to be on the way to softening their stance on flying drones at night. In a notice for proposed rulemaking (NPRM) published by the FAA in January 2019, the FAA described placing more focus on “night physiology and night illusions” in the certification process for the Part 107 remote pilot certificate. Armed with specialized knowledge on night flight, the FAA may consider lifting the restriction on flying drones at night even without a waiver.
We still can’t say for certain if the proposed rule change will become a law. Even if it does, we also don’t know when it will be implemented. We still consider it a good sign that the proposal came straight from the FAA.
Is it possible to fly my drone over a crowd of people?
Section 107.39 states that “no person may operate a small unmanned aircraft over a human being unless that human being is (1) directly participating in the operation of the small unmanned aircraft or (2) located under a covered structure or inside a stationary vehicle.”
Let’s dissect that rule for a bit. According to the language of Section 107.39, drone flight is prohibited over any person given that the person is not a participant in the drone flight operations. This excludes people who are in no way involved with the operations even if then they have given their consent for the drone operator to fly over them. The FAA reasons that people who are mere spectators do not exhibit the same level of situational awareness with regards to the drone compared to the drone operations crew.
Drone flight over a vehicle is allowable, but only when the vehicle is stationary. This does not include vehicles that are idle but have their engines running. The reason behind this is pretty simple – a drone crash near a moving vehicle can result in the driver temporarily losing control, leading to a vehicular accident. Unlike a drone crash, a car crash will almost certainly lead to personal injury.
The provision against flying over people is another rule where the FAA has seemingly taken a relaxed stance on. This change in perspective has probably been brought about by the popularity of ultra-portable drones – drones that are incredibly light and compact but are almost as capable as their full-sized alternatives. By their sheer size and weight, these drones pose less risk of causing heavy personal injury or property damage.
In the proposed system, all drones will be classified into three categories based on their weight and the level of hazard they pose. Category 1 drones will be those that weigh less than 0.55 pounds, while Category 2 drones will be those that weigh more than 0.55 pounds and have no exposed rotating parts that can cause skin laceration. Category 3 drones have the same weight threshold as Category 2 drones but have a higher severity threshold, should it have an accident.
Categorization of the drones will be done by the FAA, but safety testing of the drones will be the responsibility of the drone manufacturers. To help buyers make informed decisions, the FAA will maintain a database of drone models with their respective weight categories.
As with the NPRM for night-time flight rules, this proposal is still under review. The window for comments to the proposal has closed a little more than half a year ago, and it’s anyone’s guess when the new rules will be implemented.
What is the altitude limit for drone flight under Part 107 rules?
One of the major restrictions under Part 107 is that drone pilots are only to fly below 400 feet altitude when in uncontrolled airspace. This limit was established in the context of the minimum cruising altitude of manned aircraft, which is 500 feet. The 100-foot buffer zone ensures that drones and manned aircraft will not have close encounters.
However, it is worth noting that the 400-foot limit is measured at above ground level (AGL) units. This means that it is measured against a reference, typically the level of the ground from which your drone takes off. The relevant Part 107 rule also includes a corollary that you can fly “higher if your drone remains within 400 feet of a structure.” The implication here is that a manned aircraft will also adjust its cruising altitude in the vicinity of large structures, such as buildings or geological formations.
This means that it’s perfectly fine to bring your drone on a hike, launch from the peak of a mountain, and fly within 400 feet of your take-off point. Your drone should have a built-in altimeter that you can check if you’re pushing the 400-foot limit.
Do the Part 107 rules prohibit drone flight indoors?
The FAA has authority over all of national airspace, with just a few exceptions. However, any space that is located indoors or under a permanent cover is no longer considered as part of national airspace. This means that you can fly a drone indoors without violating any FAA rules because the area no longer falls under FAA jurisdiction.
The question you need to ask is: should you be flying indoors? It’s easy to underestimate the challenges of indoor flight. For starters, you will almost certainly lose GPS reception. This means that you do not have the benefit of GPS stabilization, so the act of simply hovering in place will require a greater degree of focus. Since indoor spaces are much denser with obstacles, you will probably have to deactivate your drone’s obstacle avoidance system.
The loss of these “handicaps” can be quite jarring, especially if you’ve never flown your drone without them before. Flying indoors is an inherently high-risk activity, given that a crash will almost certainly end up hurting someone or damaging some expensive objects.
If you’re a Part 107 drone pilot and you’re about to accept a job that requires that you fly your drone indoors, then you need to be very confident about your flight skills. Try flying your drone without GPS (wrapping aluminum foil around your GPS sensor should cut off the signal) and see what it feels like.
How can I apply for a Part 107 waiver?
The FAA provides an option for licensed drone pilots to apply for waivers for particular flight restrictions through the FAA DroneZone website: Right now, the FAA only grants waivers for the following conditions:
- Operations at night
- Operations beyond visual line-of-sight
- Operations over a populated area
- Operation of multiple drones by a single drone pilot
- Operations over restricted airspace
- Operation from a moving vehicle or aircraft
As of January 2020, the FAA has granted over 3,000 Part 107 waivers. About 95% of these waivers were for drone flight at night, which demonstrates how open the FAA is about lifting this particular restriction. Flying in restricted airspace takes the second place in terms of the number of waivers granted. The FAA has been a bit more open about granting waivers for flight over populated areas or beyond visual line-of-sight in the past few years.
Applying for a waiver can be a tedious process that will require you to provide a highly detailed description of the flight operations you wish to undertake, prove that your remote pilot-in-command is capable of flying in such conditions, identify the potential risks of the planned operations, and plan to take measures to mitigate these risks.
Granting of the waiver is upon the discretion of the FAA. They also prescribe a 90-day lead time between the filing and the grant of waivers.
By looking at the granted waivers, it’s easy to spot how the drone operators are able to mitigate the risks associated with particular flight restrictions. For instance, waivers granted for flight at night requires the use of specific models of anti-collision lights, while drones approved for flight over crowds are outfitted with reliable parachute systems. Drone flight over the 40-foot ceiling altitude comes with the requirement of declaring a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) 24 hours prior to operation.
As part of the January 2019 NPRM, the FAA has proposed adding three conditions to the current selection of restrictions that can be waived:
- Operations over moving vehicles
- Operations at night without anti-collision lighting
- Operations over people that otherwise do not comply with the proposed new rule
Again, these are just proposals, and only the FAA knows when (or if) they will be implemented.
Navigating any list of laws can be a difficult task. In the case of the Part 107 rules, this becomes even more complex because of the highly dynamic nature of the current drone industry. Between advancements in drone technology, the growth of the commercial drone industry, and the lobbying efforts of drone organizations, there is still a huge potential for the Part 107 rules to continue to evolve. You can trust us to keep you updated about these changes.