Getting a commercial drone license in the USA is not difficult, but you must follow a few steps to earn the certificate.
How do you become a commercial drone pilot?
To become a commercial drone pilot in the USA, sign up for your FAA Tracking Number, register on PSI to take the exam, then fill out FAA Form 8710-13. A commercial license is required to perform aerial tasks with your drone and earn money.
Keep reading to learn how to become a commercial drone pilot in the USA, including a list of the top approved testing centers and plenty of tips.
What is a commercial drone pilot?
A commercial pilot flies drones independently or across industries for diverse purposes. They can legally obtain money for their services.
They’re the opposite of hobbyists, who fly drones for fun. As a hobbyist, you’re very limited from a legal standpoint on what you can do with a drone.
That’s why it’s best to become a commercial pilot, as you can extend your area of practice with a drone and earn money lawfully.
What do commercial drone pilots do?
As a commercial drone pilot, you will work for a specific company or as an independent contractor.
The industries that use drones continue expanding.
For instance, one of the most known industries is filmmaking, where applications in drone usage have been adopted since the early stages of drones.
Another industry many new commercial drone pilots flock to is real estate.
Moreover, search and rescue, agriculture, construction, law enforcement, logistics, and security are just a few industries where drones are widely used.
Now, how do you become a commercial drone pilot in the USA?
Buy your first drone
If you’re just getting into flying drones and aim to become a commercial drone pilot, starting with a beginner drone is a good approach.
Sometimes, the company you will want to apply to may already have their own droning equipment. If not, you may invest in a professional drone to fit your industry.
Did you know drones above 250 grams must be registered with the FAA?
Make sure you register your drone, as you can’t fly it legally until it’s registered, even if you hold a commercial license.
» MORE: Best Drones for Beginners
Obtain an FAA Tracking Number
Next, register for an account on the Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) website.
This web-based certification application guides new drone pilots through the FAA application process.
The idea behind IACRA is to provide electronic signatures to eliminate the need for paper forms and to protect digital information.
This portal also ensures drone pilots meet the FAA policy and regulatory requirements.
Schedule the Part 107 exam
Part 107, also known as the Aeronautical Knowledge Exam: Unmanned Aircraft General–Small (UAG), is the test you must pass to become a commercial drone pilot in the USA.
This exam costs about $175, but the price will vary.
First, verify your eligibility and create an account on the PSI website. Then you can schedule an exam at an FAA-approved testing center.
Remember the FAA Tracking Number you obtained? You will need it to verify your eligibility.
Afterward, click this PSI FAA link to find a testing center near you.
Enter your postal code and pick the country. Select the radius you want to cover, and from the deployable exam menu, select Unmanned Aircraft General – Small UAG.
Study for the Part 107 exam
Now that you’ve scheduled your Part 107 test, it is time to study. There are several test prep courses we recommend looking into.
It takes time to prepare for the exam, so study once you enroll in a test prep course.
Most academies offer reading and video material to help you with everything you need to know regarding the Part 107 exam so you can pass the first time.
Take the exam
Exam time has arrived. You will need to have at least one of the following documents:
- Driver permit or license. It must be issued by a US state or territory.
- A US government identification card or military identification card.
- Alien residency card.
You will receive what you need for the exam at the testing center, including a pen, paper, eraser, etc.
Here is more information about the Part 107 exam.
- You have 120 minutes to take the test.
- You are not allowed to bring any electronic device into the testing center.
- You must score 70 percent or answer at least 42 questions correctly.
- You can use a standard calculator, and you may need a ruler, which is required for some questions. Bring one with you.
When you take the test, remember to focus, and if you don’t know the answer to a question, skip it and return to it later.
Complete FAA Form 8710-13
Congratulations! Now that you’ve passed the Part 107 exam (that’s what we want to hear), it’s time to complete FAA Form 8710-13 on IACRA’s website.
- Log in with your username and password.
- Click Start New Application.
- Choose the Application Type > Pilot and Certifications > Remote Pilot.
- Start the application.
- Follow the steps on the prompt and add your 17-digit code when requested. Be aware that the 17-digit code you obtained after passing the exam may take up to 48 hours to be updated in IACRA.
You should receive the steps to obtain the temporary pilot certificate by email.
It will take about six to eight weeks to receive the permanent card in the mail from the FAA.
You can now legally fly your drone in the category and earn money.
Additional requirements and tips for commercial drone pilots
Obtaining your commercial drone pilot certificate in the USA is just the beginning.
Here are some tips and requirements after you pass the Part 107 exam.
Obtain drone insurance
Insurance isn’t mandatory to fly your drone, but it’s good to be covered in case of an accident.
Establish an LLC
Establishing yourself as a limited liability company is a good practice when flying drones as an independent contractor for commercial purposes.
Register your drone for commercial work
Remember when I mentioned that drones under 250 grams do not need to be registered?
If you’re flying a drone for commercial purposes, you must always register it, even for drones less than 250 grams.
To register your drone, you need the following:
- Email address
- Phone number
- Physical address and/or mailing address
- Make and model of your drone
- Remote ID serial number provided by the manufacturer (if applicable)
- Credit or debit card
The registration costs $5. Here’s more on how to register your drone with the FAA.
Maintain drone registration and renew your Part 107 license
- Once every 36 months, you must renew your drone registration.
- Your Part 107 license is available only for 24 months. Once every two years, you must pass a recurrent aeronautical knowledge test to keep your license current.
- Remember to carry a registration card when flying your drone for commercial purposes.
Report accidents to FAA
If something went wrong and your drone had an accident where the value of damaged goods was over $500 or injured others, you must report it to FAA.
The term is a maximum of 10 days from when the accident happened.
The FAA may also request a periodic equipment check to ensure your drone is safe and require present documentation and records.
USA drone laws for commercial drone pilots
Drone laws and regulations for commercial pilots are not that different in the United States from recreational provisions.
Here is the list of laws for your perusal.
- Your UAV must weigh less than 55 pounds (25 kg) at takeoff.
- Your drone also has to be registered on FAA DroneZone.
- You must fly your drone under 400 feet.
- You must keep your drone in your visual line of sight.
- You must fly at speeds of under 100 mph.
- You must fly in Class G airspace.
- You must have anti-collision lights on your drone to fly at night.
- Always give priority to manned aircraft.
- Beware that drone laws and regulations may differ from state to state.
You can deviate from most rules and fly outside these boundaries if you apply for a Part 107 Waiver with the FAA.
After you have a commercial drone license in the USA
You must build up a portfolio and have experience flying commercial drones to get employed by major companies.
The best way to approach this is as an independent contractor (self-employed) and seek assignments yourself. You can find various assignments across your area.
By doing this, you have two significant advantages on top of earning money:
- You will gain experience in a specific field where you want to work as a commercial drone pilot.
- You will enrich your portfolio, which can be beneficial to apply to work as a commercial drone pilot at more prominent companies.
Commercial drone pilot salary
One of the main reasons someone wants to become a commercial drone pilot in the USA is because of the current salaries.
The federal minimum wage as of 2023 in the US is $7.25.
A commercial drone pilot should earn far beyond the minimum wage across the country, no matter the industry they are active.
The average salary of a drone pilot across the entire United States is $83,000 per year. Here are some career paths you can consider.
- Mapping and surveying: This job is highly paid if you have the experience to do surveys with a drone and use mapping software. On average, commercial drone pilots mapping and surveying in the USA earn between $100 and $240 per hour.
- Filmmaking: One of the most widespread activities of professional drones can earn you between $200 and $500 per hour but sometimes even more.
- Real estate and construction: These are two industries where the usage of drones has become abundant in the past few years. You should earn, on average, $80k per year in real estate and $100k per year in construction, respectively.
A freelance drone operator may earn between $45k to $160k.