So you got your Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate — congrats! Now you’re considering taking the next steps in furthering your aviation education by getting your Private Pilot License (PPL). But how much harder is it to get that Private Pilot License if you are already certified by the FAA to be a Drone Pilot?
There’s a lot of crossover between the things you’ll need to learn in order to pass the Aeronautical Knowledge Test, which you need to take in order to get your FAA Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate, and the things you’ll need to know to pass the Private Pilot Knowledge Test. But of course, there are added layers of knowledge and skill you need to have in order to reach that next step of getting your PPL.
“If you are able to pass the Part 107 exam, you are well on your way to grasping what’s needed to pass the written part of the PPL exam, so by all means keep going,” said AerialAge drone pilot Tony Montoya. “The fundamentals of flight are ubiquitous. If you enjoy learning what is needed to pass the Part 107 exam, chances are you’ll be hooked on aviation enough by then to really ‘want’ to pursue your PPL and beyond.”
Before we get started, it’s worth noting that there are a few types of certificates you can get to allow you to fly manned aircraft.
- Sport Pilot’s Certificate: The most restrictive in terms of what types of aircraft you can fly, the Sport Pilot Certificate only requires 20 hours of flight training and pilots are not required to obtain a medical certificate.
Recreational Pilot Certificate: a limited restricted version of the Private Pilot’s license, requiring only 30 hours of flight training, but comes with restrictions including flying aircraft limited to 180 horsepower, staying under a maximum altitude of 2000 AGL, flying during the day and typically shuttling just one additional passenger.
Private Pilot Certificate: Requiring a minimum of 40 hours of flight training, the PPLS is not only the most popular certificate, but it’s also the gateway to more advanced certificates, so we’ll be referring to the Private Pilot’s Certificate throughout this guide.
Here’s what you need to know about the biggest differences between getting your Remote Pilot Certificate — aka your drone pilot license — and your Private Pilot License, so you can fly manned aircraft too:
Cost of getting your Private Pilot License vs. your Remote Pilot Certificate:
For most people, the biggest hurdle in getting your Private Pilot License is going to be the cost. While getting your drone license can cost as little as $150, getting your PPL will cost you more like $10,000.
Aeronautical Knowledge Test vs. PPL Test Costs
In order to be a certified drone operator, you must take and pass a UAS aeronautical knowledge test.
The fee to take your drone test is going to be $150 at most test centers. Plus you’ll probably want to enroll in a training course, which will cost around $250 (though there are plenty of great free/extremely cheap ways to study for the Aeronautical Knowledge Test as well).
In order to get your PPL, you must pass both a written knowledge test and a practical test. The written test also typically costs around $150 and in most places can be taken at the same test center where you took your drone test. While it’s a similar test, it’s not the same test, so you’ll have to pay this $150 fee again.
As far as the practical test, if you take the test from an FAA inspector, there is no charge, but the downside is they typically book out months in advance. If you take the test from an FAA-designated pilot examiner, you will have to pay, because the pilot examiner conducts tests without pay from FAA. That cost varies by instructor, but typically runs between $400-$600.
Drone equipment vs. PPL equipment costs
Technically, you don’t need any equipment to get your Remote Pilot Certificate. You can pass your test without having ever touched an actual drone in your life. Of course, we’re not sure why you would do that, which means you’re likely going to purchase a drone (most drones cost between $1,000 and $2,000). You might want some accessories like spare batteries or better sensors, but that’s largely discretionary based on your use case, so we won’t factor those into overall costs.
There is going to be a lot of equipment you need to buy to fly manned aircraft. There’s some fairly low cost equipment, like foggles, which are glasses that have been made to simulate foggy conditions, for your IFR training (foggles typically cost about $25). There’s also more expensive costs, like insurance, in the event the company renting you the plane doesn’t already provide it. And although this one is controversial about whether or not this helps rather than hurts, some people recommend simulation equipment to help you practice for the practical exam, while reducing your actual manned flight time and cost (something like the Logitech G Saitek PRO Flight Yoke System will cost about $160).
PPL flying costs
In order to be eligible to take the practical portion of the PPL test, you must have logged at least 40 hours of flight time that includes at least 20 hours of flight training from an authorized instructor and 10 hours of solo flight training. This is going to be your biggest chunk of costs.
Costs do vary by region, instructor and area, but in general expect to pay for plane rental fees and all associated costs, as well as your instructor’s time. Drone pilot Tony Montoya said that lessons at Macon County (1A5) in North Carolina run $163/hr “wet,” a term that means use of the actual plane as well as fuel/oil.
East Coast Aero Club, which provides flight instruction and aircraft rental, put down a vary detailed breakdown of what costs you can expect, sorted by which type of aircraft you choose to fly.
Note that their breakdown is based on the average student pilot who flies one to two times per week and acquires their certificate in 55 hours, and is based on rates at their Bedford, MA location.
On top of that, some airports may charge a landing fee — and over the course of your training you will do many, many landings.
Studying for (and taking the test to get!) your Private Pilot License vs. your Remote Pilot Certificate:
There are two parts to taking your PPL test — the written test and the practical exam.
“From my experience taking the Part 107 exam and studying for the PPL, I speculate 40-50% of what one would expect to be on the PPL is on the 107, but with that said, those would be considered more the “gimmie questions” on the exam,” Montoya said. “They do not include questions on topics like Maintenance, Flight Rules, Instruments and Cross-Country Planning (requiring use of the E6B flight calculator), so readers should not lull themselves into thinking the PPL is a walk in the park if they have their 107.”
The PPL written test
The good news? Studying for the written test to get your PPL won’t take a ton of effort if you already passed the test to get your remote pilot certificate.
“Many of the hardest parts of the PPL test were in the Part 107 exam (with some notable exceptions, like Aircraft Maintenance, Flight Rules, Instruments and Cross-Country Planning), so I already had somewhat of an aviation knowledge base to build upon,” said AerialAge’s Tony Montoya.
The PPL practical exam
There’s not a lot to compare the practical exam with to the drone industry, since there is no such requirement in drones. It’s going to be a big day, and you’re going to want to get there early.
You’ll have to do a preflight check and your examiner will review your logbooks, entering your personal information info into IACRA, which is the web-based certification/rating application that guides the user through the FAA’s airman application process, and have you sign some documents. Then you’ll have to answer a number of oral questions before you can actually get up in the air for your checkride.
Rather than reinvent the wheel, I’ll link to this excellent first-person account of the PPL practical exam, which includes a pretty complete breakdown of the whole day.
Time spent getting your Private Pilot License vs. your Remote Pilot Certificate:
As far as studying for the written tests, the time spent getting your PPL on top of your Remote Pilot Certificate will largely vary based on your background.
For Elise Permann, who is working on studying to get her PPL right now and has already been a part of the Civil Air Patrol, she already knew about aerospace and had done emergency services training, making the sectional reading and weather questions fairly simple to learn about.
“Now with diving more into my private pilot’s license studying, it’s rehashing things I already knew, but I think I’m pushing myself more because I want to make sure to keep up on my pilot knowledge for my upcoming test,” she said.
There is, however, a minimum time requirement in flight hours for your PPL) meanwhile, there is no flight logging requirement to get your Remote Pilot Certificate).
FAA regulations require a minimum of 40 hours of flight instruction and experience. However, the national average is closer to 60 hours, so you might want to budget not only more time, but also more money to pay for those extra flight hours.
“I’m budgeting $15K to include PPL and instrument ratings,” Montoya said.
As you can tell, getting your pilot’s license is not easy — and it’s a much bigger endeavor than simply getting your drone license through the written exam. In fact, 80% of student pilots voluntarily withdraw from training before gaining even a basic pilot license, according to a study conducted for the US Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.
That being said, I wish you luck, and happy flying!
Have you gotten your Private Pilot License after obtaining your Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate? What was your experience like? Share any feedback, tips or stories in the comments below!