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FAA Recreational Exam for Drone Pilots (TRUST) – What You Need to Know

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For the past five years, drone pilots in the US who wish to fly commercially have had to take a knowledge test before they can be certified. This has become a well-accepted fact and has been embraced by almost everyone in the drone community.

Right now, FAA is moving ahead with the next level of regulation – requiring recreational drone pilots to also take a knowledge test. How will this knowledge test work and when will it be a requirement? Why is it even necessary?

Below we bring you the latest publicly available information.

The law for recreational drone pilots – Section 44809

After several years of controversy, recreational drone pilots in the US are now governed by a single piece of legislation. Section 44809 or the “Exception for limited recreational operations of unmanned aircraft” came into law in May 2019 and superseded all other previous regulations on recreational drone flight.

The most important provision of Section 44809 is that it only applied to drone pilots who fly “strictly for recreational purposes.” It’s worth noting that the law is an “exception.” This implies that drone pilots, by default, are assumed to still fly under Part 107 rules unless they can prove that Section 44809 applies to them.

Section 44809 also enforces standard drone flight rules such as keeping within 400 feet AGL and visual line of sight.

Among the provisions of Section 44809 is the requirement for recreational drone pilots to take an “aeronautical knowledge and safety test.” This is not yet implemented but the FAA has been working with various stakeholders in the past couple of years to develop the test.

Latest updates on the recreational drone pilot testing

The knowledge test for recreational drone pilots has been officially named “The Recreational Safety UAS Test” or TRUST. The latest update of the FAA regarding TRUST was released in February 2021. Based on the update, the contents of the test have already been developed and they are now in the process of looking for organizations who can serve as FAA Approved Test Administrators.

According to FAA’s timeline, the first round of applications has already ended as of March 31. The results of this round will be announced by June of this year. This will be followed by a target implementation of the knowledge test by June 1 – less than a month from the writing of this article.

The goal of the FAA is to make the knowledge test accessible online. To provide a consistent platform, an approved test administrator must be compliant with SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model) learning management system standards.

Once TRUST becomes a requirement, all recreational drone pilots will be expected to carry proof of their passage of the knowledge test while flying. Right now, the FAA has released no guidelines yet on what drone pilots are expected to know to pass the test.

Why is recreational drone pilot testing necessary?

This new requirement for recreational drone pilots to get tested was likely borne out of several factors. The most pressing is the fact that drone-related incidents happen almost daily, and a large portion of these incidents involve pilots flying “recreationally.”

A case can be made that some of these cases stem from deliberately malicious behavior. However, it cannot be discounted that some pilots simply do not know the dangers of flying over people or are not familiar with the concept of airspace classes.

In the last few years, the federal government did not see it necessary for recreational drone pilots to go through a test. This is because recreational drone pilots were lumped in with the rest of the model airplane community – a mostly self-regulated community. These flight clubs not only provided safe areas for RC flight clubs but also gave training and education to their members.

The problem comes from the fact that the number of drone pilots has grown very fast in the last couple of years. The FAA estimates that there are now more than 500,000 drones in the US that have been registered for recreational use. Obviously, not all of these recreational drone pilots are members of hobby flight clubs.

This has created a gap in educating drone pilots so that they know the basic guidelines in airspace safety. After all, concepts like airspace classifications and visual flight rules are not known to the general public, especially for those with no background in aviation. This is what recreational drone pilot testing aims to develop.

Challenges in compliance

One question that is often asked when this topic is discussed is how likely it will be for recreational pilots to take the knowledge and safety test. After all, compliance is one of the biggest challenges of any of the drone-related laws passed in the last couple of years. These include certification for commercial drone pilots and the registration of drones. No matter how easy or well-intended the process is, there will always be a fraction of drone pilots who will choose not to comply.

Even then, that is no excuse not to pursue this particular path. We believe that all drone pilots should undergo some basic free training before using a drone.

Final thoughts

The FAA has not provided any concrete updates lately, but we might be just a few weeks away from recreational drone pilots needing to take a knowledge test before they can fly. The FAA has made it clear that the objective is to educate drone pilots according to a standard that will benefit the safety of national airspace.

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