Update: The FAA’s provision for online currency renewal, which was originally slated to end on June 30, 2020, has been extended through September 30, 2020. Read on to learn more.
At the moment, the COVID-19 crisis has caused some confusion regarding certification requirements for drone operators. Under Part 107, the federal regulations governing drone operations in the U.S., all commercial drone pilots are required to get a Remote Pilot Certificate before they fly. But most testing centers across the country are closed due to the coronavirus. So what can you do?
The good news is that PSI, the company running most of the FAA’s testing centers in the U.S., plans to reopen many of its testing sites on a rolling basis. You can find closure information and tentative reopening dates on PSI’s Closures page. (A few independently owned and operated testing centers have remained open throughout the pandemic.)
More good news: if you need to renew your test results to maintain your current certification, the FAA just published a special regulation enabling certain current Part 107 certification holders to extend their knowledge recency by six months if they take an online test.
So how does this affect you?
If you need to take a recurrent knowledge test and can’t schedule an appointment:
The FAA requires Part 107-certified drone pilots to take a knowledge test every 24 months to ensure they stay up to date on current regulations. Usually, this requires going into a testing center. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the FAA announced a new temporary measure (which was later extended) that will allow current Part 107 certificate holders whose test results expire between April 1 and September 30, 2020, to complete an online course to renew their test results for six months and maintain an active certification.
If you’re a pilot with a Part 107 certification, you can go to www.faasafety.gov and take either the “Part 107 Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (small UAS) Recurrent” or “Initial” course. Upon completing the course, your knowledge recency status will be extended for six months.
Note: if you are not yet a Part 107 certified drone pilot, taking the “Initial” course does not grant you a Part 107 certification. These online courses are usually available only for traditional pilots certified under Part 61. Since Part 61 pilots are already familiar with the National Airspace System, these courses are less comprehensive than the regular Part 107 knowledge exam.
The FAA’s measure acknowledges that a shortage of current Part 107 pilots could negatively impact “a community’s ability to support the safe inspection of infrastructure, including power lines, fire and rescue, flood responses, law enforcement, and overall public safety.” It’s good to see that the FAA has implemented temporary measures that will enable more drone pilots to maintain current certifications. For more information, read the FAA’s special regulation FAQ.
If you need to take a recurrent knowledge test and can schedule an appointment:
As I mentioned, PSI is starting to reopen its testing centers as local jurisdictions allow. You can check the status of your region’s testing centers on the PSI Closures page. I recommend checking with your facility to confirm your appointment and find out about any additional requirements you may need during the test, such as face coverings.
If you’re able to safely take your knowledge test in person, ideally you should do so. For one thing, the in-person exam is more comprehensive and specifically intended for drone operators. Also, passing the test at a testing center extends your test results for 24 months, compared to six months via the online method.
If you need to take a Part 107 certification test for the first time:
If you are getting a remote pilot certificate for the first time, you will need to schedule an in-person appointment at a testing center. Currently, there are no online options for initial Part 107 certification.
You can follow the steps for getting certified under Part 107, and be sure to familiarize yourself with Part 107 regulations. Remember that without a remote pilot certificate and current knowledge testing results, it is illegal to fly drones commercially.
Skyward has resources available to help you bolster your program in the meantime. Check out some of Skyward’s recent on-demand webinars, including an introduction to two advanced drone models and a look at Skyward’s Aviation Management Platform.