A growing number of flying clubs are asking the AOPA flying clubs team about adding a “drone” (strictly, a sUAS—Small Unmanned Aircraft System), to their aircraft fleet. What a great idea! It is a cheap way to add equipment into the club, to keep people flying when the big planes are off somewhere, and it could be a really good way to get new people interested in the club, with perhaps an entryway into the club’s manned aircraft.
The good news is that these clubs have asked us about aspects such as operating procedures BEFORE just buying a drone and flying it around airports.
The accompanying article, Aircraft Spotlight, features one such club that added a drone to their fleet and operate it responsibility and within the rules. One requirement is that club members must have the correct “license” to fly the drone. Unlike the case of a certificated (and current) Private Pilot, who may fly a Light Sport Airplane under Sport Pilot privileges, it does NOT necessarily follow that a current, certificated pilot for manned aircraft could fly a drone, unless they have earned a Part107 UAS certificate.
Before we launch off into how you earn the Part107 certificate, let’s distinguish between a flying club adding a drone, and a drone flying club. The former is as it sounds—an existing flying club operating manned aircraft—adds a drone or two to spice-up their operations and social opportunities within the club. The latter, however, is different.
We’ve been poking around the idea of Drone Flying Clubs for some time and see some opportunities, and some traps. As for full-sized manned aircraft, the opportunity is to share in the costs and operations of a drone, as well as enjoy the camaraderie with others of the same mindset. Alternatively, perhaps people who have their own (low cost) drones wish to form or join an association for social and educational purposes, which is an excellent mission for any flying club.
The trap, though, is if people form a drone flying club with the intention of sharing the cost of a high-end (expensive) piece of kit, with multiple and advanced sensors. Now, we accept that some people may want to fly such a sophisticated sUAS for personal and pleasure use, but it is not too much of a stretch to think that members would want to use the very capable drone for, say, aerial photography, real estate shots, field and crop surveying, etc. So, the club could easily cross the line from being a non-profit social club, to being a provider of commercial aviation services, which is a whole different ball game—like Cricket.
So, an initial question for a club wishing to include a drone in its fleet could be “Do operators of the drone need to have a Part 107 certificate if the drone is being operated for personal and pleasure use, only? The answer is “no”. If you just want to operate a drone for fun and recreation, you do not “need” to get a Part 107 certificate. If, however, you might operate the drone for commercial operations (that is, you get paid for doing it), then “yes”, you will need a Part 107 certificate. Now, if you are already a certificated manned pilot, then you already know about airspace, weather and so on, but you will not necessity know about regulations for drones, drone systems, how to maintain a drone…and more. The point here is that even if you hold an FAA pilot certificate and don’t intend to fly a drone commercially, there is still a lot of useful knowledge to be gained by completing a Part 107 course, and once you pass it, you might just as well get the Part 107 certificate for your collection!
Rather than reinvent the wheel and tell you about all about Part 107, we’ll instead point you to existing resources:
As well as the excellent material on the FAA and AOPA websites, several commercial training providers have created Remote Pilot courses, including study guides, videos, and more. Once you have passed the knowledge test, you will have to apply for the Remote Pilot certificate. Again, follow the instructions, here.
Finally, before we leave the topic of drones-for-clubs, at least for now, two warnings: