The next question in our Ask Drone Girl series has to do with the Part 107 license. But it has nothing to do with how to get one — but rather IF you should get one. Turns out there are pros and cons to having a Part 107 license — besides the obvious one of making money.
What are the advantages to having a FAA drone license versus recreational use other than making a profit? Are you allowed to fly the drone in more areas?
While having a Part 107 license is essential if you want to use your drone to make money, there may actually be some negative things that come with having the license.
For the uninitiated, the Part 107 license is like a driver’s license for commercial drone pilots. To get one, you must pass a written test proving knowledge of the airspace. Once you have one, you must also agree to a strict set of rules, including that you will not fly in controlled airspace, won’t fly over people, won’t fly after dark, etc. — all unless special permission is obtained.
And if you want to make money off your drone, whether it’s teaching someone else, selling your photos, or even performing in an exhibition, it’s imperative that you have a license.
But what if you have no interest in making money? Here are three reasons to absolutely get the license anyway, and three reasons to not get one:
Con of having a Part 107 license #1: Not able to fly at night.
While pilots who pass the Part 107 test agree to not fly at night — unless obtaining permission from the FAA, which is a complicated process — hobby pilots aren’t legally bound to those rules. That was a huge issue for drone pilot Amber Lee, who had to turn down a job offer because the flight that the client wanted would have had to occur at night, and there was no time to file for a waiver.
Instead, a hobby pilot did the job — for free.
Hobby pilots still need to follow the Special Rule for Model Aircraft (P.L. 112-95, Section 336). Under those rules, a drone operator is required to provide notice to the air traffic control tower if flying within five miles of an airport.
For commercial pilots, distance from airport has no impact on where the drone, but rather what type of airspace the drone is flying in.
“The biggest advantage for hobbyists like me to having a 107 certificate is the ability to fly within 5 miles of airports in uncontrolled airspace (Class G) without notifying the airport manager/air traffic control,” said drone pilot and attorney Loretta Alkalay. “I have a home that is within 5 miles of an airport in Class G airspace so having a 107 has made it easier for me to fly there.”
Con of having a Part 107 license #2: Is it really worth the effort anyway?
The Part 107 license process is not impossible, but it is certainly somewhat time-consuming. Taking the test alone will likely take at least one hour, not to mention studying time, which varies based on prior knowledge. There is also an $150 fee to take the test.
And for all that effort, many drone pilots suspect the FAA isn’t actually cracking down on whether commercial businesses have licenses. Clients don’t seem to care either, they say. If other businesses are operating without a license, some say it may be almost worth the risk to not have one either. (Editor’s note: Drone Girl does not endorse this strategy!)
“Mostly it has not gotten me any advantage in the marketplace,” said drone pilot Flo Minton. “Everyone hires unlicensed people here.”
Not to mention, those unlicensed people are able to fly at night.
Pro of having a Part 107 license #2: Boosts your credibility
But for the struggles Minton mentioned above, she still says it’s worth it — particularly in using her knowledge to gain credibility with other people, especially law enforcement.
Minton was flying her drone on a beach in Boca Raton, Florida last weekend when a lifeguard approached her.
“Before he could tell me I could not fly there, I flashed my FAA card and told him I had permission to fly from the Boca ATC (air traffic control) and his local ordinances were invalidated July 1 by the new Florida state law that says only the State can regulate drone use,” she said. “After he stuttered an apology, he said, ‘sorry, there are a lot of jerks that come down here to fly’ I told him I appreciated his oversight of unlicensed pilots.”
Con of having a Part 107 license #3: Restricted in other areas.
Having a Part 107 license goes beyond inability to fly a drone at night. Part 107 license holders must also agree to keep their drone within visual line-of-sight, under 400 feet, below 100 mph, and not over people. That limits tons of possible drone adventures. Many FPV flights take place well beyond visual line of sight, and plenty of cool drone photos are right over people’s heads.
But if that sweet drone photo directly over someone’s head goes viral, then you’re probably going to be in the spotlight, and get your license taken away if that’s the case.
Pro of having a Part 107 license #3: Knowledge is power!
Do you know the difference between a cumulonimbus cloud and a stratiform cloud? If an aircraft is landing on runway 16, do you know which direction it will land in?
The $150 price tag to take the test is probably a drop in the bucket compared to your already expensive hobby of drone flying.
And the information you learn while studying for the test is quite similar to what you’ll see on manned aircraft tests as well. Want to get your Sport Pilot License? With your newfound knowledge, you’re nearly there.
That knowledge can play in your favor. It could help you land a job in the drone industry, and may even help lower your drone insurance rate, depending on the drone insurance provider.
Plus, you’ll boost your credibility in the drone world, with other people you meet taking you a bit more seriously.
Even if your social circle doesn’t care about drones, for pure bragging rights alone, the Part 107 license is worth it — not to mention the physical license looks nifty in your wallet.