How to Become Certified to Operate a Drone


Dr. James Robbins, professor and ornamental crop specialist at the University of Arkansas, points to Aug. 29, 2016, a big day in the growth of the UAV industry in the United States. That was the day the Federal Aviation Administration issued the permanent flight regulations for the commercial use of drones.

“What is really making drones take off now is the fact that regulations are now easier than ever for commercial uses. There is a roadmap that allows anybody — landscape architects, construction superintendents and just about anybody else along that spectrum — to get their certificate, register their drone and go out and fly,” adds Brendan Stewart, President and Co-Founder of AeroVista Innovations, Chicago.

Those regulations, referred to as Part 107, cleared up a regulatory situation that Robbins, in a recent webinar, described as “extremely chaotic.” Prior to Part 107, anyone desiring to use a drone for any commercial purpose had to jump through a daunting number of regulatory hoops, including undergoing a flight medical exam and being able to pass the Private Pilot Knowledge Test.

“The remote pilot exam is a lot easier than the previous full exam,” says Robbins, who has been working with UAVs since 2010 and holds the remote pilot certification.

What this means is that you don’t need to have a pilot’s license or hire someone that does to operate a drone for a commercial purpose. You can do it yourself if you pass the remote pilot exam (also known as the Part 107 test) and fill out a remote pilot application.

You can prepare for the remote pilot exam on your own, or you can seek the help of one of the many aerial service providers, such as Stewart’s AeroVista Innovations and also Go Unmanned, which has locations in North Carolina and Virginia, both of which served as sources for this article.

Robbins estimated that beginners will probably need 30 hours of study before attempting to pass the remote pilot exam. Training programs offered by companies like AeroVista Innovations and Go Unmanned streamline the preparation curve and are highly recommended for anyone just getting into UAVs.

Visit the FFA website, which lists testing centers, and find the location nearest to you. There is a two-hour time limit to complete the test, which costs $150. The test consists of 60 objective, multiple-choice questions. You must pass the test with a score of at least 70 percent.

The last step in the process is simple: registering for an IACRA account with the FFA to be able to print a temporary certificate. You will receive the permanent remote pilot certificate, which looks very much like a driver’s license, four or five weeks later.