First, if you are a Part 61 manned pilot with a current Flight Review and Medical Certificate, you have it very easy. Go to and complete the Part 107 course, then upload your information to IACRA. Once a DPE or CFI signs off on it, you are good to go!
But if you do not have a manned pilot license, then you will need to pass a thorough Remote Pilot Certificate exam produced by the FAA. The test is $150 per attempt, and has 60 multiple choice questions covering Regulations, Airspace, Weather, Performance, and Operations. It is important to be well prepared for the exam, because of the costs involved!
The FAA considers any flight other than recreation ("your personal enjoyment") to be a commercial flight, even if you do not make any money from doing so. If someone is caught flying without a license, they can be given fines ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 per instance--and it only goes up from there. If someone flies a drone in the Runway Exclusion Zone near the end of a runway in Class B, C, or D airspace, they can face a fine of $10,000 and a year in jail. If someone interferes with an emergency aircraft, such as ambulance helicopters, the drone pilot can be given a fine of up to $32,000 per occurance. Lastly, if someone flies their drone in a Temporary Flight Restriction, they are subject to a $100,000 fine and a year in Federal Prison.
So it's important to be educated and fly smart!
Can I fly in large cities or near large airports?
You can fly near large cities and airports as a Part 107 Commercial UAS pilot! The FAA and private industry has been working very hard to ensure that drones and manned aircraft maintain separation and stay away from each other. The Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) is available for free through the Airmap app, and allows 107 pilots to request to fly in large cities, with clearance coming back in minutes. It is important to plan your flight in an area that is available in the LAANC app, and to always be safe!
What drone should I buy?
This is probably one of the most common questions I get from people wanting to start a drone program, and the answer is -- it depends!
If you are just learning to fly, I always recommend something tough and inexpensive, like a Syma X5SW. They run around $40 on Amazon, and are extremely difficult to kill. They're great for learning the basics of controlled flight without risking a large amount of money.
Other higher-end drones should be chosen based on your mission. Do you want to take pretty photographs? Do you want to deliver packages? Do you need to cover a large amount of area for an engineering project? Do you want one that will follow you around and shoot high definition video? Each type of activity has a tool that best meets your needs, but it is most important to define your mission first, before you lose a lot of money on something that does not fulfill your role.
What can I do about a drone flying over my house?
Under the 2012 FAA Reauthorization, the FAA classified "Any object which is designed for controlled flight in the air" to be an aircraft. This is why the FAA can have jurisdiction over model aircraft and drones, or why they can require you to have a license for commercial use. It is also why you can't shoot one down, so do not do that. You will be facing a Federal crime!
If you see someone flying in an unsafe manner, your first call should be to your local police. If you can see the pilot, provide a location and description to the dispatcher. You can also call the FAA Aviation Safety Hotline at 1-800-255-1111 for the local FAA to begin an investigation into the person.
Are there any medical restrictions on flying a drone?
Unlike manned aircraft, you do not have to pass a medical exam to qualify as a Remote Pilot. The only restriction is that you cannot have a "mental or physical condition" that would preclude you from safely operating the aircraft. Disqualifying conditions can include alcohol within the previous 8 hours, illegal drugs, or even OTC medications that affect your vision, control, or hearing. So plan accordingly!