The pitfalls of hiring an unlicensed drone pilot are incredibly significant. And, whether a regulation is broken by accident or on purpose, the laws are still the same – which is to say that ignorance of those laws are not an excuse for violating them.

As the cause an illegal flight operation in the national air space (or NAS), you could find yourself on the hook for an $11,000 fine.

So how do you keep yourself and your business protected? Thankfully there are a few resources available to help ensure that you’re only working with drone pilots that are authorized to work commercially.

The Airman Registry

The first resource is the FAA’s Airman Inquiry form. This is a searchable index that requires only a last name and state of residence for anyone who wants to fly for you commercially. If a record exists for the person, the form will return their name. On clicking their name, you’ll be shown the type of certificate or license that exists for that person within the FAA’s records. If their name doesn’t appear, then there is likely no record for that person.

That said, there are some caveats to the Airman Registry. It’s not perfect. If a license is in flux, is still being issued, is relatively new, or if the database is having issues (this is a government-run database after all) then it could return a negative result even if a license exists. Even with this caveat, however, it’s a great place to start doing some digging to make sure you’re protected and that your pilot is going to conduct your flight within the rigorous regulations put forth by the FAA.

You Can Always Ask Them

“Hey…before we do this, I need to know whether you have a Part 107 license.”

Those 16 words can save you $11,000. There is only one correct answer – yes. Anything other than ‘yes’ puts you at risk of causing an illegal flight operation and puts people at risk of being in the area of a drone pilot who does not have a valid remote pilot’s license.

You are also well within your rights to ask to see their credentials. If they’re a recent licensee, they can pull out a printed piece of paper that shows they possess a Temporary Airman Certificate. This certificate is issued once they’ve successfully passed their FAA exam and is valid for up to 120 days while their permanent certificate is being made. The temporary certificate will show a license number of “PENDING” as the actual license number issued to the pilot is not reserved for them until their permanent card is being made. The permanent license is a plastic card that is issued by the FAA and mailed to the pilot. Either one is valid proof of a Part 107 license.

There is no reason for a pilot to be at the site of a flight without their credentials. In fact, as a licensed pilot, you have to be ready to present that credential to certain authorized entities on request. “Yeah, but I don’t have it on me right now” is not a valid answer and you need to find another pilot.

While we’re on the topic of asking…

Consider asking them about their insurance coverage as well. A licensed pilot will have a very adequate insurance policy that covers their liability in the event that the drone…how should we say this…makes involuntary contact with something it wasn’t supposed to.

A little forethought goes a long way

While it’s very easy for some to simply think of a drone as an additional revenue source or a potential value-add to their business, a licensed pilot will tell you that these aircraft are very serious machines that, if flown improperly or outside the specifications of proper use within the national air space, can very easily put people and property at severe risk. And remember, ignorance of the law is not an excuse for breaking it. Failing to ask whether a person with a drone is a licensed pilot is not an excuse for working with an unlicensed pilot. Protect yourself and protect those around you and make sure your drone pilot is a licensed professional.