I recently had to take the recurrent knowledge test to maintain my Part 107 certification as a drone pilot. I did worse my second time around on the test than I did my first. I’m attributing that change in performance to my elevated sense of self and the lack of nerves – both of which were doused when I saw I scored 15 points lower than my original pass at the exam. Not to mention the test for recurrent knowledge covers information that is a bit more involved than the initial knowledge test.
That’s a conversation for a different post. What I want to talk about today is the cost associated with attaining and maintaining a Part 107 certificate (or license, whichever hovers your quad).
The overall cost is exorbitant if you plan on maintaining it for any stretch of time, especially if you’re an independent pilot or own a smaller scale business. That being said, nobody ever told us that owning a drone or drone business would be cheap, but I find the recurring cost to take a test for a shot at attaining or renewing your Part 107 certification a bit much to stomach.
Each and every time you want to take the test you have to pay one hundred and fifty smackers — that’s pass or fail. Oh, and get this, if you fail, you don’t get a refund. That money is just gone. I’m not a proponent of taking a test (especially one as important as a pilot license test) ill-prepared, you should absolutely know your stuff before you sit down at the table or desk they put you at for the assessment, but there should certainly be leniency given to those who mess up on their first try. Not to mention definite leniency for those of us who continually show we know what we’re doing time and time again, each and every two years.
I’m not a decision-maker for the FAA. I’m a member of the flight community who just happens to like having his feet on the ground when piloting an aircraft…for now. However, I do have some suggestions that would help to make the idea of becoming a remote pilot and maintaining that status regularly more appealing to those of us who aren’t big or perhaps don’t plan on getting big with their side hustle of flying drones.
Reduce the Price of the Recurrent Test
Look, the fact of the matter is if you can pass the first test, you can almost certainly pass any test after that. The first test is challenging, but the recurrent tests take that challenge and up the ante just a bit. Those of us who need to continually prove that we know what’s going on and what is expected of a commercial remote pilot should not be punished with repeated charges of $150 for tests that are only going to increase in their level of challenge as more rules are implemented and airspace becomes busier. That said, the FAA certainly still needs to keep supplemental cash flowing through to make many of the aviation programs it supports possible. Keeping all of that in mind, my proposal on this point would be:
- Reduce the cost of the recurrent knowledge test by 50%, dropping it from $150 to $75.
- Keep the cost of the initial knowledge test the same at $150.
Reduce the price of all tests
Rather than reducing just the price of the recurrent test, perhaps a reduction in pricing across the board would be fair to everyone — especially those who take it once and find that drone piloting as a profession is not necessarily for them. This would also directly benefit people who do find that making this hobby their business by cutting down on the overall cost over a longer period of time. It’s a bit more of a moderate solution as the overall decrease isn’t drastic, but it keeps in mind savings over time. Just think:
- Reduce the cost of the initial knowledge test by about 25%, dropping it from $150 to about $110.
- Reduce the cost of the recurrent knowledge test by 33%, dropping it from $150 to $100.
Eliminate the Charge for Recurrent Knowledge Tests
Hear me out. I know we already touched on the fact that the FAA needs to bring in revenue from these tests, but what if we made the entry fee with the initial knowledge test higher and then all recurrent knowledge tests were free of charge? Once you’ve made it into “the guild” and become a remote pilot after passing the initial knowledge test, you should be rewarded with free recurrent knowledge tests with one caveat: you have to pass it every time in order to receive the perk. Think about it, if you are sharp enough to pass the initial test and then continue to pass your recurrent knowledge tests, you shouldn’t be punished with any charges. If you fail a recurrent test, you should have to pay for your recurrent tests until you pass it again, at which point you would receive the benefit of free recurrent knowledge tests again. In this scenario:
- Increase cost of initial knowledge test by 33%, upping it from $150 to $200.
- Eliminate the cost of recurrent knowledge tests, dropping it from $150 to $0.
- Implement a system that recognizes pass and failures as it pertains to charges for testing.
- A failed recurrent knowledge test results in a $200 charge for all future tests until it is passed again.
There are plenty of ideas that could be generated from this train of thought and I don’t believe that any solution is a complete “one size fits all” answer to the expensive problem a Part 107 certificate poses for pilots. I do believe that these three solutions are perhaps the easiest to maintain and the most practical overall.
The fact is when you get your class C driver’s license in Pennsylvania it costs roughly $60 up front and then $30 every four years to renew it. A license for a car is far less expensive and one could argue that driving a car on a daily basis is far more dangerous than flying a drone responsibly below 400 feet. So, it might be high-time that we examine the costs of the Part 107 and find a way to make it much less expensive, especially for the little guys who fund their own business or hobby.