FAA Update: Part 107 Recurrent Testing & the Reauthorization Bill

Director of Strategy at Skyward

Earlier this month, the FAA confirmed what we have long suspected: Commercial drone pilots in the U.S. with a Part 107 remote pilot certificate will need to retest when their current certificates expire. It’s been nearly two years since the first batch of drone pilots took the test and received their certifications. At the time, the FAA said the certificates would expire in 24 months—so while retaking the test may be something of an inconvenience, it’s definitely not a surprise.

If you already have your remote pilot certificate, you’ll find that your recertification test is a bit different than the one you took two years ago. It won’t include questions about weather, loading, and performance. In the latest published update, the FAA indicates that 30-40% of the questions will cover operating rules, sUAS remote pilot certification, and waivers. Another 30-40% will cover airspace classification and airspace operational requirements. And the final 20-30% of questions will cover airport operations, emergency procedures, aeronautical decision-making, and maintenance and inspection.

To take the Part 107 recurrent test:

  • Make an appointment to take the test at an official testing center.
  • Present your remote pilot certificate with an sUAS rating to the testing center’s registration employee or test proctor.
  • Bring a photo ID with your signature, date of birth, and street address (here’s more guidance on acceptable identification).

In our next release, scheduled for later this week, we’re implementing a feature that will make it easy to see at a glance when your pilots’ certifications are about to expire.

The FAA Reauthorization Bill

On April 27, the House passed the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Bill. This is the first time in six years that the House has passed a reauthorization bill rather than an extension; and, while the bill still must go before the Senate, there’s good reason to believe it should be enacted (mostly) as written.

The bill would fund the FAA through 2023, and it addresses many aspects of U.S. civil aviation, including drones. I was pleased with the bill as written—it includes several improvements and updates to drone regulations. It’s not perfect, but it will make it easier for companies to use drones for business in several respects:

  1. The bill would allow those flying a drone BVLOS or from a moving vehicle to carry a payload.
  2. It would create a new certificate for those transporting a payload for compensation or hire.
  3. The bill would require the FAA to provide a “sample of the safety justifications, offered by applicants for small unmanned aircraft system waivers and airspace authorizations, that have been approved by the Administration for each regulation waived or class of airspace authorized” on their website. This will give new waiver applicants guidance on best safety practices and eliminate guesswork. Skyward customers have been asking about this for years, so this is great news.
  4. The bill would loosen restrictions for drones being flown purely for R&D—for example, there would be no weight limit if a company flies a drone in an R&D context.

I also like that the bill is focused on remote ID and harmonizing all the great programs the federal government is already undertaking (NASA UTM, the DOT’s UAS Integration Pilot Program, and NASA and the FAA’s UTM Pilot Program) to make sure they’re all working toward a common goal.

The FAA Reauthorization Bill is now with the Senate. One of their main tasks will be to reconcile two conflicting amendments to the bill, both of which are focused on recreational operators.

The DeFazio Amendment would modify an existing prohibition that prevents the FAA from issuing any regulation on model aircraft flown for recreation. It would give the FAA leeway to collaborate with industry to update operational parameters for recreational aircraft in order to mitigate risks to aviation safety and national security.  

The Sanford Amendment would clarify and tighten the existing 336 exemption for model aircraft to ensure that recreational drone pilots are following the rules. It would also allow the FAA to create rules for recreational drones.

While both amendments are focused on bringing recreational operators back into compliance with national airspace rules, they propose very different tactics for accomplishing that goal. The Senate will need to decide which to implement before passing the bill.

If the Senate passes an update to the bill as quickly as we anticipate, the FAA will be empowered to implement remote ID requirements with two possible outcomes:

  1. The FAA will release the remote ID requirements for commercial, but not recreational, drones;

or

  1. The FAA will include recreational requirements. Of course, if the Senate does not give the FAA the authority to regulate recreational drone operators, this would open up the potential for a lawsuit.

So the goal here is not just speed, but also clarity. We’ll keep you posted as we learn more.