Commercial sUAS? It's Easy! Just Do It!

If you've been reading AviationBull for a while, you'll know that I'm not the biggest fan of drones. (We're going to call them unmanned aerial systems, or UAS, for the rest of this post because that's the term the FAA's going with.) I've narrowly avoided a couple near midair collisions with UAS in Afghanistan that would have killed me and my crew if not for our actions. Despite the dangers inherent with UAS, they are the way of the future. There is no stopping that.

Several years ago I published my recommendations for integrating UAS into the US national airspace system. One of those was that operating a UAS for money is a commercial flight operation that should require a commercial pilot's license. Shockingly, the FAA hasn't adopted all of my recommendations (yet,) but they have set out requirements for operators to hold a commercial certificate to act as a Remote Pilot in Command (RPIC) of a sUAS for hire. (The little "s" in sUAS means "less than 55 pounds." For testing purposes remember: that's "less than" as opposed to "less than or equal to.") The FAA has published 14 CFR Part 107, a sort of combined combined Part 61/91 for sUAS operators. They've also published AC 107-2 (PDF) to help sUAS operators understand how to safely operate in American airspace.

Part 107 defines the role of an RPIC in sUAS operations, and outlines the requirements for attaining a Commercial sUAS certificate. The process includes passing a standard FAA written knowledge test, and applying for the rating through IACRA. The pilot certificate itself never expires (just like manned aircraft pilot certificates); however, commercial sUAS operators must re-take this exam every two years to continue exercising their RPIC privileges. While the Libertarian in me hates to see more government regulation, the manned aircraft pilot in me is very happy about these requirements and hopes they'll help keep me alive.

I attended a webinar last night put on my Jason Schappert and RemotePilot101 about what to expect on the FAA's sUAS knowledge test. (You can watch the recording of the webinar for free here on the website.) One of the points he emphasized was that many of the questions on this test are real, meaningful, pilot questions taken from the test banks for other pilot ratings. I think this is great news! However, Jason S. astutely pointed out that this will make passing the $150 exam challenging for non-pilots. He mentioned that even if all you're doing is taking pictures of real estate or recording videos to post on YouTube, you need to go through this process and obtain a commercial rating. (If you make money from ads that YouTube runs with your video, you've become a commercial operator.)

This will affect a lot of people. sUAS are popular, useful, relatively easy to learn to fly, and relatively cheap. If you're looking for an aviation-related business or side-job to start, you there is a lot of money to be made helping non-pilots learn to safely operate under Part 107.

Another way for you as an already licensed pilot to make money from these new sUAS rules is to offer your services as a Commercial RPIC. It will be a lot of work for a non-pilot to hack through all the red tape to get their rating. It might be easier for them to find a licensed pilot who already knows what he or she is doing to fly their aircraft for them. Part 107 even allows the RPIC to maintain control/authority over the operation of the sUAS while a second person is actually manipulating the controls. You could make money just by standing there watching someone else fly it and making sure they aren't being dumb, dangerous or different. I think this is a great situation! Who would you rather have responsible for putting a drone up near manned aircraft...a non-pilot who did the bare minimum to be legal, or a licensed pilot who knows and understands what it means to operate an aircraft in American airspace?

Luckily for us, it turns out that Part 107 offers an exception to pilots licensed under Part 61 that makes it even easier for us to get our Commercial sUAS ticket. Instead of paying $150 to take a test with LaserGrade or CATS, you and I can do a FREE course on the website. At the end of the course you take a free quiz and get a certificate. The FAA hasn't set up IACRA to handle sUAS applications yet, but once it does all you have to do is submit an application for a Commercial sUAS rating, upload your test certificate and you'll be good to go! This will absolutely be the easiest pilot rating you've ever obtained.

The course is planned for about two hours, but I have this friend who thinks that any licensed pilot could review the FAA's summary of the key points of 14 CFR Part 107 and easily pass the test without having to dig into the course in too much depth. He or she says that some basic pilot knowledge, simple logic, and familiarity with the structure of FAA test questions would be enough to get it done.

Why not take the two hours (or significantly less) to go knock this out right now? Will it change your life? Maybe not. It may end up being like a seaplane rating is for a lot of people...something you did once and will never do again. However, holding this rating opens up a world of possibilities for part- or full-time employment in what some are estimating will be a multi-billion dollar industry. You'll also be able have the option to provide a valuable public service as a safe sUAS RPIC. You truly have nothing to lose, so go do it right now!

I'll let you know as soon as the FAA sets up IACRA to process your Commercial sUAS application so you can submit your test certificate.

(Image courtesy of Wired.)