Update for April 2021: The FAA recurrent test went live on April 6, 2021. Learn more about the FAA’s Remote Pilot recurrent online training here including a preview of the course, links to the right course for you and more.
Big changes are coming to the Part 107 test in 2021: more specifically, you won’t need to take an in-person Part 107 recurrent test anymore. Instead, it’ll become a much simpler, online refresher course.
Typically, under FAA Rule Part 107 you have to take and pass a written exam in order to earn your Remote Pilot certificate (colloquially referred to as the drone pilot’s license). That certificate is valid for two years.
Up until now, pilots had to take a second, written recurrent test every two years to maintain their stature as a commercially certificated drone operator. Similar to that initial drone test, the recurrent knowledge test process required pilots to book a testing appointment at one of around 700 FAA-approved knowledge testing centers across the United States, achieve at least a 70% score to pass, and yes, pay another testing fee.
But coming later in 2021, the requirement to complete an in-person recurrent test every 24 calendar months will be replaced with a much simpler requirement: pilots must complete a free, online recurrent training course, upon which you’ll receive a printable completion certificate.
“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.
The issue: it’s unclear exactly what day that online recurrent training course will be released by the FAA, though mid-March has been suggested. After all, the final rule is effective on March 16, 2021.
So what if your Part 107 certification lapses sometime between now and when the course formally is released?
This isn’t legal advice, but here are your options for what to do if your current Remote Pilot Certificate has lapsed:
If your work is not contingent upon regular drone flights: hold off for a month
It’s looking like the online course will drop in mid-March. Given how burdensome an in-person, written exam can be (especially given COVID-19), it might make sense to put a little pause on your drone operations for a few weeks, as it looks like the test is not far out. Focus your work on projects that don’t require actual flying — filling out taxes, editing, marketing, etc., and pick up drone flights in a few weeks.
Part 107 certificates don’t “expire”. They lapse. Even if your certificate lapses, say, tomorrow, you won’t have to take the initial exam all over again. It can simply lapse between now and presumably mid-March, when you’ve taken the online training to re-certify.
If you only have a couple commercial drone flights scheduled over the next few weeks: find a temporary Remote Pilot
If you only have a few commercial drone flights on your calendar and your certificate has lapsed, here’s a solution: bring a certified Remote Pilot with you. Every commercial drone operation must have a Remote Pilot in Command (meaning someone whose certifications are current) onsite, but that person doesn’t necessarily need to be the drone operator.
If you have a friend who has a certification, pay/bribe/beg them to join you on the mission to stay legal. If you don’t know any drone pilots, browse the Internet — the AMA site, Meetup.com and Facebook groups are a great place to start — to connect with a local drone pilot, who you may be able to pay to join you on your project. It may be cheaper than taking the recurrent exam. Plus, you may make a new friend or business partner!
If you’re flying commercially on a regular basis: take the recurrent test now
If you’re flying often, and putting your work on pause is not an option, then take the in-person, written exam now, as that’s the only way to make sure your certifications are up-to-date and you’re in compliance with the law.
If you need to study for the recurrent test, I recommend taking a peek at this 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 (or if you’re interested in the full Part 107 Initial Test Prep Course, use promo code DRONEG20 to save $20, or use this link to have the promo code automatically applied).
What are you doing in light of the upcoming recurrent, online training course? Are you going to take the written recurrent exam now anyway, or will you hold off until you can just take the online course? Leave your thoughts below!