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Becoming a Remote Pilot

By Susan Parsons
Source: FAA Safety Briefing

So, you’ve decided that you want to fly small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS). Now what?

The first step is to visit the FAA website’s “Become a Pilot” page for prospective small UAS pilots, who are more properly called remote pilots. Here’s the overview.

First-Time Pilots

Start by verifying that you meet the basic requirements, which include being at least 16 years of age, having the ability to read, speak, write, and understand the English language, and being in a physical and mental condition that will allow you to safely operate a small UAS.

Next, you need to pass the initial aeronautical knowledge test. The standards for this exam are established in a document called the Airman Certification Standards (ACS) for the Remote Pilot-small UAS certificate. This ACS has five sections: Regulations, Airspace Classification and Operating Requirements, Weather, Loading and Performance, and Operations. Each major section of the ACS is divided into Tasks that cover topics such as:

  • Applicable regulations relating to small unmanned aircraft system rating privileges, limitations, and flight operation
  • Airspace classification and operating requirements, and flight restrictions affecting small unmanned aircraft operation
  • Aviation weather sources and effects of weather on small unmanned aircraft performance
  • Small unmanned aircraft loading and performance
  • Emergency procedures
  • Crew resource management
  • Radio communication procedures
  • Determining the performance of small unmanned aircraft
  • Physiological effects of drugs and alcohol
  • Aeronautical decision-making and judgment
  • Airport operations
  • Maintenance and preflight inspection procedures

Each ACS Task lists references that contain the material you need to know but, to make things easier for first-time pilots, the FAA has developed a Small UAS Study Guide.

You can use the FAA’s sample knowledge test to familiarize yourself with the kind of questions you can expect to see.

When you are ready, schedule your knowledge exam with one of the FAA’s authorized Knowledge Testing Centers — and use the web page material to ensure that you take all the proper documentation.

After passing the test, apply for your certificate by using the FAA’s electronic Integrated Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application system (IACRA) to complete Form 8710-13. The system will send your application to the TSA for a security background check, and then you will receive an email confirmation with instructions on how to print your temporary remote pilot certificate. You will later receive your permanent remote pilot certificate in the mail.

Current Pilots

If you already hold an FAA pilot certificate and meet the requirements for a flight review, the first step to getting your Remote Pilot-Small UAS certificate is completing the online part 107 small Unmanned Aircraft Systems course (ALC-451), which is available at www.FAAsafety.gov. Since you already have a pilot certificate, this course focuses on topics specific to sUAS.

After you complete the course, complete FAA Form 8710-13. You will need to have a FSDO, an FAA-designated pilot examiner (DPE), an airman certification representative (ACR), or an FAA-certificated flight instructor (CFI) validate your identity and sign your application. While a CFI can accept your application, only a FSDO, a DPE, or an ACR can actually issue your temporary remote pilot-sUAS certificate on the spot. The good news is if you submit your application to a CFI via IACRA, you will receive an email with a link to download a temporary certificate in just a few days. As with other certificates and ratings you have earned, you will receive your permanent certificate in the mail later on.

If you have other questions about UAS, the FAA website’s UAS page also includes a set of FAQs along with lots of other helpful material.

Susan Parson is editor of FAA Safety Briefing. She is an active general aviation pilot and flight instructor.