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Want to be a drone pilot? Join the club

A sign placed June 11 gives notice to those passing near a Northeast UAS Unit training session at the Oakville Prairie research site near Emerado, N.D. FORUM NEWS SERVICE/Brandi Jewett

Come Aug. 29, the Federal Aviation Administration testing center at the University of North Dakota is expected to get a little busier.

That date marks the day when federal regulations go into effect for commercial and government operators of unmanned aircraft systems, also known as drones.

Under the new rules, those wanting to pilot these aircraft will need to obtain a remote pilot certificate by passing an aviation knowledge test.

The UND testing center is one of three sites in the state where prospective UAS pilots can take the exam.

“We’ve had people starting to inquire so I have a feeling we’re going to start getting busy,” FAA Testing Center supervisor Gail O’Connell said. “We anticipate that -- at least in the beginning -- there’s going to be a pretty high volume.”

The center has received calls from the curious but cannot start making appointments for test takers until about a week before Aug. 29.

The other North Dakota centers are at the Fargo Jet Center in Fargo and at Pietsch Aircraft Restoration and Repair in Minot. In Minnesota, the nearest testing center to the Grand Forks area is at Northland Community and Technical College in Thief River Falls.

Passing the knowledge exam is just one requirement of becoming an drone pilot under the new regulations, known as Part 107. Individuals must be at least 16 years old, be able to read, write, speak and understand English and be mentally and physically fit enough to operate the aircraft -- though no medical exam is required.

The test costs $150 and takers are given two hours to complete it. A government ID also must be brought to the test appointment.

Test process

For those seeking the certificate, they can study for the exam on their own or utilize training programs offered by various companies, with some courses costing as much as $300.

There are free options, including an online introduction course offered by the FAA. That course is geared toward those holding pilot licenses, though the agency encourages anyone with interest in becoming a drone pilot to take it.

The FAA estimates about 20 hours of preparation is required for the aviation knowledge test, which needs to be passed with at least 70 percent of the questions answered correctly.

Areas of knowledge on the exam include regulations, emergency procedures, airport operations and preflight inspections.

If an individual successfully passes their test, they can apply for a temporary pilot certificate after 48 hours. After the applicant clears a free background check conducted through the Transportation Security Administration, a temporary certificate will be issued.

Once all processing is complete, a permanent certificate will be sent by mail. The expected wait time for a permanent certificate is expected to be around six to eight weeks.

The certificate is good for two years. At the time of its expiration, its holder will need to complete another knowledge test or online training course, depending on if they already hold a pilot’s license for manned aircraft.

Those flying drones recreationally are not required to take a knowledge test but are asked to follow federal safety regulations established for model aircraft.

Where to take the test

Fargo: The Fargo Jet Center, 3802 N. 20th St, (701) 235-3600

Grand Forks: Ryan Hall, 4251 University Ave., (701) 777-2880.

Minot: Pietsch Aircraft Restoration and Repair, 2216 N. Broadway, (701) 852-4092

Thief River Falls: Northland Community and Technical College, 13892 Airport Drive, (218) 683-8802.

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