Big Part 107 test changes hit in 2021, and they still affect drone pilots today.
But don’t worry — it’s mostly good news, including the removal of what most people felt was a cumbersome roadblock to taking the recurrent exam: you won’t need to take an in-person Part 107 recurrent test anymore. As of April 2021, taking the recurrent test can instead be replaced as an online training course, which you can take at www.FAASafety.gov.
The Federal Aviation Administration dropped some big news in the final week of December 2020 around drone regulation. The biggest changes that made headlines everywhere else applied to Remote ID. But there was a more overlooked change relevant for all commercial drone pilots: FAA also announced changes to rules around flying at night, flying over people, and changes to the Part 107 test.
Part 107 test changes that hit in 2021
New questions: The content of the test has changed slightly. If you’re taking the initial Remote Pilot knowledge test (meaning it’ll be your first time taking the Part 107 test to earn a Remote Pilot certificate), expect to now see a question (or a few) involving flying drones at night. Specifically, the test will address aspect of nighttime flying, including:
- collision avoidance with other aircraft
- limited depth perception and difficulty of perceiving reference points during night operations
- night physiology
- lighting requirements
- night illusions from the perspective of the remote pilot
The biggest and best Part 107 test prep centers have already updated their material to including nighttime information.
“We’ve trained drone pilots in Night Operations material over the last year and have also assisted in both Waiver application and mission compliance,” said Alan Perlman, the founder of Part 107 online test prep course and information hub UAV Coach. “We’re ready to bring these lessons and practice questions into Drone Pilot Ground School, our online test prep course. We’re also grateful that the FAA gave us 60 days to make these changes.”
Recurrent test: Once you’ve passed your initial Remote Pilot knowledge test, your Remote Pilot certificate (aka drone pilot’s license) is good for two years. Up until when the changes went into effect in April 2021, pilots had to go through a recurrent knowledge testing process to re-up and to maintain their stature as a commercially certificated drone operator. Much like taking the initial drone test, the recurrent knowledge testing process required pilots to book a testing appointment at one of around 700 FAA-approved knowledge testing centers across the United States and achieve at least a 70% score to pass.
That in-person test is no more. The FAA’s new final rule, announced in December 2020, replaces the requirement to complete an in-person recurrent test every 24 calendar months. Instead, remote pilots need to complete online recurrent training (and yes, that recurrent training will include the aforementioned night subject areas).
On completion of this recurrent training, you’ll receive a printable completion certificate (which you should keep with you in your drone bag).
“Online recurrent training allows remote pilots to maintain critical knowledge and keep abreast of dynamic issues, including changes to regulations, that arise while ultimately completing the updated knowledge requirements related to operating small UAS,” according to text from the FAA’s final rule.
Even better news for drone pilots: recurrent training is offered free of charge to remote pilots.
Though while the FAA’s course is free, the FAA’s final rule also specifically suggested that pilots supplement through self-study, which could include taking an industry-offered online training course or an in-person training course, such as the simple and handy one-page PDF from Drone Pilot Ground School that quickly spells out what recurrent concept to know, or John Peltier’s FAA Part 107 Recurrent Renewal test prep course.
What if your Part 107 certificate has lapsed?
If you have a Remote Pilot Certificate, you must either have taken one of the recurrent online training courses within the previous 24 calendar months, or have taken the initial written test, to operate UAS under part 107.
But even if you took the original Part 107 test years ago and it has since lapsed, you’re in luck. Anyone who holds a part 107 remote pilot certificate — regardless of aeronautical knowledge recency — can become current again by taking the Part 107 Small UAS Recurrent (ALC-677) online training course.
If you are a Part 107 remote pilot and also certificated with a current flight review under part 61, then you can take the slightly shorter Part 107 Small UAS Recurrent (ALC-515) online training course, which is also available at no cost.
New rules for proving you’re certified and your drone flight is legal
The FAA also spelled out rules for proving you’re a real drone pilot. The FAA also asserted their authority (and granted authority to other law enforcement agencies) to inspect your operation to make sure you’re flying legally. According to the new, spelled-out rules, the Remote Pilot in Command must always:
• Have your remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating, plus corresponding identification (such as a driver’s license) in your physical possession and readily accessible when exercising the privileges of that remote pilot certificate.
• Be able to present your remote pilot certificate and identification upon a request from the FAA, NTSB, TSA, or any Federal, state, or local law enforcement officer.
• Be prepared to make available, upon request, to the FAA any document, record, or report required to be kept under FAA regulations.
• Be willing, upon request, to allow the FAA to test or inspect your drone, the remote pilot in command, the actual drone pilot, and, if applicable, the visual observer to determine compliance with the rule.
You should also carry the recurrent completion certificate, if applicable.
When do the FAA’s new Part 107 recurrent testing requirements go into effect?
The new version of the FAA recurrent test, which is simply an online training course, is free and available on www.FAASafety.gov as of April 2021. Learn more about the process of taking the recurrent test here.
What is Part 107?
Under the FAA’s Part 107, any commercial drone operation must include at least one participant who holds a drone pilot license, formerly referred to as a “remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating.” In order to get that, you will need to pass an in-person written exam., which many people refer to as the “Part 107 test.”
That’s because every commercial drone operation must have someone serving as the Remote Pilot in Command present. In order to be a Remote Pilot in Command, you must have a Remote Pilot Certificate (which means you’ve passed the initial Part 107 Aeronautical Knowledge test, and — if applicable — have gone through the recurrent training every two years). That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re the owner of the drone, or the person operating the controls. But it does mean you’re ultimately responsible for the operation.
The bottom line on the FAA’s 2021 Part 107 test changes
With no more recurrent test, 2021’s Part 107 test changes marked a big win for your busy schedule — and your wallet (as you’ll save $150 not having to take another written test). It might also make you more compliant, as many pilots likely never went through the process of taking the recurrent test. It’s a lot easier to remain compliant when the rules are easier to follow.
Are you pleased with the new 2021 Part 107 test changes, or do you think you should have to pass a recurrent exam every two years? Leave a comment below!