So you want to take your Part 107 test or recurrent exam right now, but your in-person testing center is still closed due to coronavirus?
Most FAA-approved drone testing centers closed during the pandemic (and some are still closed) due to legal requirements in some states that consider them a non-essential businesses, or because the owners have elected to close their testing centers as a precaution.
*Update as of January 2021*: The FAA in December announced a new rule that removes the requirement to complete an in-person recurrent test every 24 calendar months. Instead, remote pilots need to complete online recurrent training. On completion of this recurrent training, you’ll receive a printable completion certificate.
In order to become a drone pilot under the FAA’s Small UAS Rule (Part 107), you must obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate from the FAA by passing a written test. To do that, you must schedule an appointment with an FAA-approved Knowledge Testing Center, where you’ll take either your initial or recurrent FAA knowledge exams.
Tests are administered through a company called PSI Services, which closed all of is owned and operated physical test centers in the U.S. on March 19, 2020 in light of COVID, though some have since re-opened.
Here’s what that means for drone pilots who either need to get their license for the first time, or are looking to take the recurrent exam to renew it:
What to do if you were scheduled to take a new or recurrent exam, but the testing center closed
Good news for pilots who had made appointments to take their tests between March 19 and April 30, 2020. You can reschedule up to the same day as your test, with no cancellation fee. Reschedule your test online here or through PSI’s customer service call center at +1 (800) 733-9267, though PSI said if you choose to call that you should expect longer than usual wait times.
PSI’s call centers are open on weekdays between 7:30 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. ET, and on weekends between 9 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. ET.
Today, you can still schedule exams via this page. If you’ve been studying for your Part 107 test throughout the pandemic, it might be a good idea to book your test slot now — as many time slots could book up once people rush to get their needed certifications when stay at home orders lift. For test centers that are open, they may be operating at reduced capacity which might also make it difficult to get a time slot.
What to do if your Remote Pilot Certificate ‘expired’ and you can’t take your Recurrent Exam
Remote Pilot Certificates are valid for two years. After 24 months, you need to take a recurrent knowledge test to re-up and to maintain your stature as a commercially certificated sUAS operator.
While Remote Pilot Certificate don’t technically expire, your authority to exercise its privileges does. (No, you’re not going to get a new certificate or plastic card in the mail.)
Again, that recurrent test needs to be taken at one of about 700 FAA-approved knowledge testing centers across the United States. You’ll need at least a 70% score to pass.
If you received your initial license in March 2018 (and potentially April 2018 and onward, depending on how long shelter in place rules extend) and you need to re-certify for the first time then you’re in a bit of a predicament. This also presents a conundrum for people who are re-certifying for perhaps even the second time, or their license has otherwise lapsed.
Unfortunately, under the Airmen Certification Standards for Remote Pilot Certification, that means you would be flying out of compliance with Part 107.65. Legally, you must be able to show a copy of your recurrent knowledge test report if asked.
There is a sliver of goods news: when testing centers open back up, you won’t have to take the original Part 107 test again. Even if you have an existing Remote Pilot certificate that has expired, you are eligible to take the Recurrent Exam. If you pass that, then you’ll be compliant again, no matter how long your license had lapsed.
How to keep your business running, if your Remote Pilot Certificate has expired
The FAA has not issued any guidance yet around what pilots can do if they still need to keep their businesses operating but their license has lapsed. In their defense, they’re busy with what seems like an endless list of airline-related issues, including coronavirus-related protection for crew, handling ghost flight rules, shutting down gates and air traffic control centers, and more.
In the meantime, here’s our recommendation: hire a drone pilot with a valid license to join you on the job (six feet apart, of course). Under Partt 107.12, anyone can control the drone as long as they are “under the direct supervision of a remote pilot in command and the remote pilot in command has the ability to immediately take direct control of the flight of the small unmanned aircraft.”
That means that the person holding the Remote Pilot Certificate does not necessarily need to be the drone pilot, they just need to serve as the “Remote Pilot in Command.”
Studying for the FAA drone pilot test and Part 107 recertification test
Whether you’re studying to get your drone pilot’s license for the first time, or you need to brush up your knowledge to take the renewal test, I recommend studying with Drone Pilot Ground School (which I personally used to pass my initial test on the first try).
The online test study program has a module specific to the recurrent test with lessons and practice questions for existing Remote Pilot Certificate holders to hop back in and to refresh their knowledge.
Unlike many drone testing courses where customers pay a monthly fee to gain access to the training modules, Drone Pilot Ground School members remain members for life, so you can reference it when you’re ready to renew in 2022, again in 2024, and onward.
Use discount code “DRONEGIRL50” to save $50 off their online courses (or simply click this link and it will automatically be applied).
If you didn’t go that route and don’t have lifetime access to a recertification program, my favorite budget option for getting online recurrent test training is John Peltier’s FAA Part 107 Recurrent Renewal test prep course. It’s just $49 with lifetime access — so you can access it again two years from now when you need to take your third drone pilot test (that’s your second recurrent test) and many more tests for years to come. Peltier also offers a test prep course to study for the full test, which you’ll want if you’re a first-timer.
I’ve outlined some of my other favorite drone license courses here in my guide to the best Part 107 online test prep courses of 2021.