How to Get Certified for Drone Operations

A quadcopter flying outfit. Photo by Eric Seals/Detroit Free Press

By Tom Burton

  The new Part 107 regulations from the Federal Aviation Administration will make it easier for citizens and journalists to use drones for aerial photography and newsgathering, but it will still require certification before they are allowed to operate these small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS).

  The rules going into effect at the end of August 2016 have been a long time coming. NPPA and other organizations have been working in advisory roles with the FAA to implement a commonsense and least burdensome set of final rules that allow for commercial use of sUAS, while  insuring  safety.


  If you have no previous flight certification, you must pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test administered at an FAA-approved location. There are hundreds of these sites around the country, many at flight schools at regional airports. Download a PDF list of locations  here

  The test covers many subjects, including airspace classifications, airport operations and regulations for UAS aircraft. An applicant can study online at in a course that takes about two hours. You will need to create a login for the site and you can start studying now, though the certification tests won’t start until August 29. It is estimated the certification will cost $150.

  If an applicant is already a pilot and currently holds a Part 61 certificate and has had a flight review in the last two years, they can instead take an online UAS training course through the FAA.

  All applicants must be at least 16 years old and be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).


Storytelling with Drones; Tips From Journalists



  The restrictions included guidelines for the aircraft.

  • The UAS has to weigh less than 55 pounds,
  • You must fly under 400 feet above ground level or, if higher than 400 feet, the drone has to remain within 400 feet of a structure such as a tower or tall building.
  • The drone can have a maximum ground speed of 100 mph and may not be operated from a moving vehicle unless the flight is over a sparsely-populated area.
  • You can fly only during daylight hours, including 30 minutes before sunrise and 30 minutes after sunset.
  • The drone has to be controlled within line of sight of the operator, without vision aides such as binoculars.
  • Very important for media companies; you can not fly over people other than those involved in the operation of the drone. Most importantly, no careless or reckless operations.

  Restricted airspace is also a consideration. The certification testing includes how to read airspace restriction charts. To fly drones in Class B, C, D and E airspace, you must request permission in advance from local air traffic controllers. There will be an online portal available on the FAA web site for making these requests, starting on Aug. 29, 2016. Operations in Class G airspace are allowed without air traffic controller permission.

  The FAA has created a free smartphone app called B4UFly that will identify airspace restrictions based on your location. The airspace is not just an issue in metropolitan areas. For instance, in a fairly rural area of Central Florida a test showed an airspace overlap of five small airports. There are also areas with restricted air space such a national parks and military bases. 

  There will be a way to request a waiver from these and other restrictions if the applicant can demonstrate that such a flight was safe under the terms of a certificate of waiver. When requesting a waiver, you should consider logistics that could make the flight safer. For instance, some experts feel that flying very early in day, in those 30 minutes before sunrise, could make a situation safer because fewer people would be around. Also, a small drone could be seen as safer in some situations so a news organization might consider owning a range of drone sizes.