This is an introduction to Part 107 regulations — the laws that govern commercial drone operations in the United States. The information here is derived from Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) resources; however, this is by no means a comprehensive resource or legal advice. For the most reliable information, please visit faa.gov/UAS.
1) What is Part 107?
14 Code of Federal Regulation (CFR) Part 107 is the Federal Aviation Administration’s rule for operating small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS, also known as drones) in the United States.
Established in 2016, Part 107 significantly lowered the barrier for operating with drones. Before the adoption of Part 107, anyone wanting to operate drones for commercial purposes — from lone pilots to major corporations — had to apply for permission from the FAA through a time-consuming and expensive process, or else operate illegally. Now, businesses who follow Part 107 can fly drones without applying for authorizations, and can do so in compliance with federal law.
2) What aircraft fall under Part 107?
Part 107 defines a small UAS as any uncrewed aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds, except for those operated solely for recreation or hobby purposes. If you need to fly a heavier UAS, you’ll need to apply for a special exemption from the FAA.
Every drone operated under Part 107, as well as recreational drones weighing more than 0.55 pounds, must be registered with the FAA. This is easy to do through FAA Drone Zone, the government’s official website for managing drone affairs. A drone registration costs $5 and lasts 3 years. You will need to mark your drone with its registration number so that it is visible on the outside of the drone.
- UAS = Unmanned Aerial System, which includes the aircraft, controller, and the link between the two.
- UAV = Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, which refers to the aircraft itself
3) Who needs to be certified as a commercial drone pilot?
Anyone flying a drone for commercial purposes — that is, not operating solely for recreation or hobby purposes — must obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate from the FAA to be certified to fly under Part 107.
Flying commercial drone operations without certification can result in civil penalties with significant fines. In the case of egregious violations, criminal sanctions can be imposed. Don’t fly commercial drones unlicensed!
To become a Part 107 certified drone pilot, you must:
- Register online for an FAA Tracking Number (FTN) using the FAA’s IACRA system
- Create an account in the FAA’s test scheduling system using your FTN and sign up to take your Airmen Knowledge Test.
- Pass your Airmen Knowledge Test ($150 per attempt)
- Link your test results to your IACRA Application
- Submit your application for a Remote Pilot Certification using the IACRA system
- Pass a TSA background check and receive your Remote Pilot Certificate
(Note: If you already hold a Part 61 pilot certificate, you may be eligible for a different certification process as long as you keep up to date on your crewed aircraft requirements. See the FAA website for more information.)
You must have your Remote Pilot Certificate on hand during every flight. To maintain a valid certificate, you will need to take free, online recurrent knowledge training from the FAA every 24 months. The FAA also recommends carrying your most recent knowledge training certificate to prove your license is current.
Sound overwhelming? Don’t worry. Skyward has helped dozens of drone pilots earn certifications. Skyward’s Professional Services team can connect you with all the resources you’ll need.
4) Where does Part 107 prohibit me from flying?
The remote pilot in command is responsible for knowing whether the airspace he or she is operating in is safe for drone operations. Drones are not permitted to fly in airspace restrictions such as:
- Stadiums and sporting events – usually one hour before the event’s schedule time until one hour after its conclusion
- National security sensitive facilities – military bases, national landmarks, and critical infrastructure
- Prohibited or restricted areas
- Temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) – hazardous areas or security-related events
- Emergency and rescue operations – for example, around wildfires or hurricanes
In addition, drone pilots are generally prohibited from flying in the controlled airspace surrounding airports. However, drone pilots can request nearly instant airspace authorizations through the FAA’s Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC). For more information on this capability, which is built into Skyward’s drone airspace intelligence map, read our article on Accessing LAANC with Skyward.
It is critical for drone pilots to understand where and when they are allowed to fly. Flying illegally can result in civil penalties or even criminal sanctions, including six-figure fines and prison sentences up to three years.
Always check a valid, up-to-date drone airspace map before each and every flight. Skyward’s airspace map can provide you with detailed information about current and upcoming airspace conditions so you can know what to expect in advance.
5) Under what conditions can I fly?
The pilot in command is required to assess the environment, weather, crew, aircraft, control systems, and airspace before every flight.
Assuming conditions are conducive to a safe flight, you may only fly if you:
- Keep the drone within your visual line of sight at all times
- Fly below 400 feet above ground level (or, if within a 400-foot radius of a structure, no higher than 400 feet above the highest point of the structure)
- Fly only during official daylight hours, or equip your drone with appropriate anti-collision lights and receive FAA training on night flights
- Fly at or below 100 miles per hour
- Have three or more miles of visibility
- Remain 500 feet below and 2,000 feet horizontally away from clouds
- Yield right of way to other aircraft, especially crewed aircraft such as helicopters and planes
- Control only one drone at a time
- Do NOT fly over people or moving vehicles, unless you meet the FAA’s operating requirements for these missions
- Do NOT operate the drone from a moving vehicle, unless in a sparsely populated area
(Note: This is NOT a comprehensive list. For complete information, check current FAA requirements.)
If you want to operate outside the above conditions, you may be able to apply for a Part 107 waiver. For more information on Part 107 waivers and how to get them, see this article from Skyward’s Professional Services team.
6) What are other considerations when flying under Part 107?
Under Part 107, you must report to the FAA any incident that results in serious injury, loss of consciousness, or property damage of $500 or more. This report can be filed via FAA Drone Zone.
A visual observer is an additional crew member who can assist the remote pilot in command by monitoring the flight and environment. Most drone operations don’t require a visual observer by law, but it’s a common best practice implemented by most companies. Under Part 107, if a visual observer is used, he or she is required to:
- Remain in effective communication with the remote pilot in command
- Maintain visual line of sight with the drone at all times
- Scan the airspace for potential collision hazards
How does Skyward help?
Launching commercial drone operations involves many additional factors beyond the letter of the law. Each type of operation carries special considerations, many of which are best practices rather than legal requirements. Skyward offers software, services, and resources to help businesses and enterprises of any size launch and maintain drone operations in compliance with Part 107. These include:
- Skyward’s Drone Software Platform – advanced airspace intelligence and end-to-end drone operations management on cloud and mobile platforms
- Skyward’s Professional Services consultants – drone experts who help companies start programs from scratch, train pilots, and scale operations
- Drone Industry News and Best Practices from Skyward – dozens of resources including regulatory news, Skyward innovation, and industry best practices