Many Hobby Drone Pilots may need a FAA Remote Pilot Certificate after all to fly their UAS while complying with the rules


As you most likely know, the new FAA regulations for drones (UAS) go into effect very soon (29 Aug 2016). This includes the requirement for a remote pilot license for anybody that flies their drone commercially. But it may also mean the need for a certificate for a lot of recreational pilots.

The new regulation (Part 107) has been much anticipated by both hobbyist and commercial operators for a while now. After all, with the new FAA regulation comes a lot more clarity, finally, and the new rules make it a lot easier to operate a drone commercially.

Among other things it removes the need to have an traditional manned aircraft license. This was a big barrier to commercial drone usage for a lot of quadcopter pilots. Why would you learn to fly something like a Cessna when all you want to do is fly your RC quadcopter? It just didn’t make sense.

But, it looks like there is an unexpected and often overlooked side-effect to the new regulation..

Yesterday, Forbes published an article that goes into this.

The new regulations don’t just make it easier to fly a drone commercially. They also make a big change to how the FAA distinguishes between UAV pilots that need a license (formerly, commercial pilots) and drone pilots that don’t (hobby pilots).

This means that, soon, a lot of people who don’t fly their drone for commercial reasons will still be judged by the same rules as those that do and they will need to get their remote pilot certificate.

No longer is it relevant whether you fly for profit or not, it now becomes relevant whether or not you fly FPV (first-person-view) and if you follow “a community-based set of safety guidelines and withing the programming of a nationwide community-based organization”.

And depending on those 2 things you may need to get a remote pilot certificate after all to fly without breaking the rules.

Let’s take a closer look at this.

First of all, how do we know this? Well, John Goglia (the author of the article on Forbes) simply went ahead and asked the FAA:

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FPV flying remote pilot licenseQ: Could you confirm whether hobby FPV flyers will have to get a Part 107 remote pilot certificate after August 29 when the new drone rules go into effect?

A:  Under the FAA’s current interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, modelers who want to fly their drones using first-person-view systems must operate under Part 107, which requires a Remote Pilot Certificate. The operator also would need to comply with any other applicable Part 107 requirement.

Luckily the FAA gave him a clear reply. In fact, it doesn’t get much clearer than this; to fly FPV you need to fully comply with Part 107. This includes getting a Remote Pilot Certificate.

But there is more.

Just deciding to no longer fly FPV might not be enough to make sure you don’t need that certificate. This becomes clear when we look at some of the other questions John Goglia asked the FAA to see if you can just fly your drone, without a remote pilot certificate.

As it turns out there it becomes a lot less clear if you’re not an AMA member. Just have a look at the FAA’s responses to John’s questions below:

Remote Pilot License AMAQ: Also, will model aircraft pilots who do not belong to the AMA have to get a remote pilot certificate under Part 107 after August 29? 

A: The FAA does not mandate membership in any particular community-based organization.  To qualify for the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, an unmanned aircraft must, among other things, be operated in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization. If a hobbyist can’t show that he or she is operating in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization, then he or she will have to meet the requirements of Part 107

As you can see, the FAA’s answer is a bit vague.

If you can proof that you are in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization (similar to the AMA) then you’re fine. If you can’t show that then you’ll have to comply with all Part 107 requirements.

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So even if you are a recreational pilot who doesn’t fly FPV, the FAA can still treat you the same way as they treat commercial pilots, when you’re not part of the AMA or a similar organization.

But which other organizations meet that standard? And is the organization you are, or are considering to become, a member of one of those organizations?

Unfortunately the FAA can’t tell you that.

Wait, what?

That’s right, the FAA does not (and does not plan to) maintain a list of organizations that qualify:

Q: Has any organization other than the AMA been determined to qualify as a community based organization for the purposes of Part 101?

A: The FAA’s interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, which was published in the Federal Register on June 25, 2014, noted that the AMA qualified as a community-based organization to provide an example of what types of organizations would qualify. The FAA does not intend to maintain a list of organizations that would qualify as a CBO under the Special Rule for Model Aircraft. Rather, the FAA will consider the language of the Conference Report that accompanied H.R. 658, which ultimately became the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, when the need to determine whether an organization qualifies arises.  The Conference Report indicates that a nationwide community-based organization is a membership-based association that “represents the aeromodeling community within the United States; provides its members a comprehensive set of safety guidelines that underscores safe aeromodeling operations within the National Airspace System and the protection and safety of the general public on the ground; develops and maintains mutually supportive programming with educational institutions, government entities and other aviation associations; and acts as a liaison with government agencies as an advocate for its members.”

This means it become pretty discretionary whether an organization meets the FAA’s standards. It also means you may not know if you are Part 107 exempt or not until after the FAA decides. And that in turn means you don’t know if you complied with the rules, until after you may have already been fined for failing to comply with them.

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Told you it got a lot less clear here.

So although the new regulations will make things more simple for commercial drone operators it seems that it makes things a lot more complicated fora lot of hobbyists. No longer is the need to have a remote pilot license based just on the difference between commercial and recreational use of a quadcopter.

FAA part 107 remote pilot certificateBecause of that you may want to consider AMA membership, just to be on the safe side of all this FAA vagueness. Alternatively you could consider to get the remote pilot certificate. The remote pilot certificate test will cost you 150, training costs to get you ready for that test can vary quite a lot.

There are already several training options available, ranging from free self-study guides to instructor guided classes with hands on flight time. And the FAA has also put out quite some information to get you ready, including practice tests. So if you want to save some money have a look at the FAA resources first.

Either way, the rules will change on the 29th and they may affect you. If they do, be safe and make sure you don’t get fined by the FAA.

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You can read the full Forbes article here.

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