Any idea how many certified drone pilots are out there in the U.S. with a Remote Pilot Certificate? At the end of 2020, there were 199,018 Remote Pilot Certificates issued, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
A Remote Pilot Certificate is a requirement to be able to legally operate drones for commercial purposes in the U.S. In order to get that Remote Pilot Certificate, you will need to pass an in-person written exam, which many people refer to as the “Part 107 test.” (It’s referred to that because the test rule is written under the FAA’s Part 107 rule.) The test, which consists of about 60 multiple choice questions, can be taken at one of about 700 testing centers spread across the country.
That 199,018 figure for certified drone pilots includes people who took the initial knowledge test and current manned pilots who took online training in lieu of the knowledge test. Manned pilots (those who hold a pilot certificate issued under 14 CFR part 61 and have completed a flight review within the previous 24 months), don’t need to go through the whole process of taking a written test specific to drones. Instead, their process is much simpler, simply having to go to the FAA FAASTeam website and complete the online training course called “Part 107 small Unmanned Aircraft Systems ALC-451,” which takes less than two hours to complete.
In context, how many people is 199,018? That’s about the same as the population of mid-size cities including Frisco, Texas; Huntington Beach, California; or Salt Lake City, Utah.
That’s about half the size of the populations of New Orleans, Louisiana or Tampa, Florida.
Still, the number of certified drone pilots is still smaller than the combined total of pilots who are certified to operate manned aircraft. The FAA recognized a total of 689,331 active U.S. pilots as of Dec. 1, 2020. Here’s how many manned pilots are in the U.S., broken down by categories of licenses:
- Student Pilot: 220918
- Sport Pilot: 6,614
- Recreational Pilot: 111
- Private Pilot: 172,637
- Commercial Pilot: 118,804
- Airline Transport Pilot: 170,247
The FAA also this month released other end-of-year figures for 2020, including data around Part 107 waivers. Part 107 waivers are required to execute flights that are otherwise banned by the FAA, such as flying a drone from a moving vehicle.
The FAA has issued 4,893 waivers as of the end of 2020. Here were the top five waiver requests approved, along with how many approvals have actually been given for that type of waiver:
- Night Operations: 4,489
- Operations Over People: 167
- Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS): 88
- Operational Limitation: Altitude 110
- Ops from Moving Vehicle: 6
Total Airspace Authorizations Issued: 71,134
The most common waivers are for allowing drones to fly at night and over people. Those waivers are so common, in fact, that the FAA is set to stop issuing many of them, to a certain extent. That’s because the FAA in December 2020 announced a new Operations Over People and at Night rule, which allows Part 107 remote pilots the ability to fly over people and moving vehicles, contingent upon “the level of risk” of the drone operation.
In contrast, something like a Part 107 BVLOS waiver is notoriously difficult to get. In fact, over 99% of BVLOS waiver applications have been rejected by the FAA, according to a 2018 PrecisionHawk analysis of Part 107 data.