How I Became A Licensed Commercial Drone Pilot

Today’s Post by Matt Staver

Here’s how I obtained a Remote Pilot Certification aka commercial drone pilot license:

As of Aug. 29, 2016, the FAA updated regulation to allow people to obtain a Remote Pilot Certification to use sUAS (small Unmanned Aircraft Systems) for commercial purposes. Basically it is now possible and not prohibitively onerous to obtain a license to use a drone for commercial purposes like real estate photography, inspection work, assisting in agricultural monitoring, and general aerial filming and photography. 

This is exciting and great news for all of us photographers and cinematographers.  We can legally use these amazing new drones to create unique, visually interesting photographs and video for our clients and portfolios. 

You can still fly a drone as a hobbyist, but remember, if you are using it for any aspect of a business or exchange any footage or photographs for money, that is commercial use, and you need a license. 

To obtain this license you must:

  • Be at least 16 years old
  • Pass the Section 107 knowledge exam
  • Pass TSA vetting
  • Register each drone you plan to use with the FAA (A $5 fee)

The first step for me was studying for and passing the Section 107 knowledge exam. To do this I needed to learn all kinds of things including the new rules related to the operation of a sUAS for commercial purposes, all about airspace, how to read a sectional chart and how to interpret weather reports.

I downloaded the FAA’s study guide and struggled through it. I knew I wasn’t ready to take the test or be a safe pilot yet, so I turned to the Internet and found a great online class that cost $100. After completing their fantastic course, I was ready for the test that cost $150

I passed my Section 107 knowledge exam in September and received my temporary license soon after. I believe it is important to obtain liability insurance. My current, comprehensive policy for my photography business does not cover drone use. They were, however, able to source a separate policy for my commercial drone use.

After all this you are ready to fly!  Good luck finding a legal place to practice if you live in a city like Denver. In addition to complying with all FAA regulation you must also learn and follow municipal laws in your area regarding drone use.  For example, it is illegal to fly from public parks in Denver, National Parks and Monuments, and many, many other areas.