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New Drone Licensing Exams Could Make It Easier For Pilots To Operate Their Vehicles

Tom Kilpatrick, founder of CloudDeck Media and the Oklahoma Aviation testing center, pilots a drone.
Brent Fuchs
The Journal Record
Tom Kilpatrick, founder of CloudDeck Media and the Oklahoma Aviation testing center, pilots a drone.

Regulatory changes mean flying a drone is about to become a lot easier. Testing centers are scheduling their first exams as new rules take effect Monday.

Commercial drone pilots who earn a license from the Federal Aviation Administration are technically licensed airplane pilots who have a drone exemption. That process takes months. Starting Monday, drone operators only have to take a 60-question written test, The Journal Record’s Brian Brus reports:

The standards for drones under Section 333 of FAA flight rules have not changed, however. The vehicles must weigh less than 55 pounds at takeoff, fly no faster than 100 mph, remain outside controlled airspace near airports until permission is granted and stay within the grounded pilot’s line of sight during daylight hours.

Their devices still have to be registered, though. One owner of a testing center told Brus that he expects more entrepreneurs and drone business.

Mitch Williams at Oklahoma Aviation in Bethany has three pilots scheduled for testing Monday with more lining up shortly thereafter. He agreed with Kilpatrick that the new rules will create business opportunities, even within the testing field itself. As it stands now, only two testing companies have been approved by the FAA for the drone licensing: Computer Assisted Testing Service, or CATS, and Laser Grade Computer Testing. Their set pricing schedules are similar, Williams said, so there’s not a lot of profit to be found in the difference. However, each center may end up charging its own fees to process the tests and maintain computer equipment. In Williams’ case, that’s about $60 per test. Oklahoma Aviation is primarily offering the tests as a service to the pilots who frequent the private jet and charter school. “There’s also a matter of the study materials to consider,” he said. “I’ve got guys who’ve said they don’t know what’s on the test, and I’ve been telling them not to take it until they know what to study. I know it’s a subset of the private pilot test.”

There are just a few thousand commercial drone pilots now, and that number is expected to rise. Testing in Oklahoma will cost $60, and pilots have to be at least 16 years old.

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