More than 3,300 people signed up to take the FAA knowledge test for remote pilots on the first day they could, Aug. 29, the agency reported. Those new pilots will add to the Section 333 crowd already taking jobs flying cameras for use in construction, agriculture, real estate, film, television, and other applications. Landing a paying gig with a drone will prove more complicated for many pilots than obtaining the new certificate.
The FAA had by Aug. 26 approved 5,552 petitions to fly a drone for nonhobby use under Section 333 of the 2012 federal law that launched the commercial drone age, each of those petitioners required to have an FAA-certificated pilot (even a sport pilot) in command of every hired drone operation. This gave certificated pilots an edge in the marketplace, but that advantage has been curtailed, somewhat, by the relative ease of obtaining a remote pilot certificate under Part 107. The main requirement for those without aviation credentials already in hand is to pass a knowledge test that covers much of the same ground as a private pilot knowledge test, but there is no requirement to demonstrate practical skills with a drone.
Droners.io was created by software engineer Dave Brown, who was drawn to the business by a friend with a drone who filmed him kite-boarding. Brown soon discovered there was no organized marketplace where consumers and drone pilots could connect. The online marketplace he created went live in August 2015, and has since expanded to include listings from 2,500 pilots offering their services, each verified by Droners.io as being authorized through a Section 333 petition, or, as of Aug. 29, by virtue of holding a Part 107 remote pilot certificate.
Brown validates the FAA credentials of each pilot before allowing new pilots to bid on jobs. His company does not validate the liability insurance coverages claimed by pilots, though Brown said in an Aug. 30 email that would change if insurance coverage became mandatory.
There are a few variations on the online marketplace model for drone pilots. Companies like Measure offer franchise opportunities for pilots to buy or lease various kinds of support, from marketing and branding to software, manuals, training, and equipment. Others are jumping in, including Sky Skopes, a startup with close ties and some staff in common with the University of North Dakota, which has long been involved with efforts to test and develop unmanned aircraft technology.
Sky Skopes has advertised seeking drone pilots nationwide, though not necessarily for staff jobs. Sky Skopes is selling franchises, a complete business model that includes training, marketing, branding, and other support.
“We send our pilots to all of the top universities around the country,” said Matt Dunlevy, Sky Skopes president and CEO, in a telephone interview. Beyond training, the business arrangement can take more than one form, but all are basically variations on the franchise theme. “What we’ve been doing is opening up new offices in different states.”
Drone Base, another of the many companies that began setting up for commercial UAS operations long before Part 107 made it easier, also accepts pilot registrations that can be completed in a few minutes, including a short version of the FAA knowledge test (10 questions instead of 60), and an opportunity to submit credentials and a video and photography portfolio.
AirMap co-founder and CEO Ben Marcus, who planned to get his own Part 107 certificate as soon as the FAA made it available, said in a telephone interview Aug. 24 that he expects that the market for commercial drone pilots and missions, which span many industries and applications, will grow quickly now that the FAA has made it much easier to get in the business by eliminating the months-long delays while individual Section 333 petitions were considered.
“I think it’s going to happen fast,” Marcus said of the post-107 drone boom that many, including FAA officials, expect. “I’m hopeful that it happens fast.”