3.3. Certification and currency requirements for drone pilots

Many countries are lenient in their license requirements for private individuals who use drones for hobby or recreational purposes. The situation can be very different when a drone is used by a company. This means that someone who has been flying similar remote controlled model planes as a hobby for many years might not be permitted to pilot a drone in a commercial setting, unless that person also has the required license to fly the drone in a commercial setting.

From the perspective of certification requirements, it is usually irrelevant how easy or difficult to fly a drone is.

Certification and currency requirements are also not affected by who owns the land over which a drone is flown. This means that the pilots need to meet the same requirements whether the company owns the land over which the drone is flown or not.

Currency and certification complement each other, but neither one is a replacement for the other. Being current under the aviation regulations means that a person has met the requirements (typically refresher training and practical experience) to act as a pilot in command within a certain time period.

Pilots in many countries need to ‘maintain’ their licenses by undergoing periodic tests and refresher programs. If they miss to do so, they lose the license to fly.

Certification requirements differ by country but there are commonalities. Usually the requirements differ dependent on the size (maximum takeoff mass) of the drones flown and whether drones are flown over people or not.

Drone laws typically come with strict limitations regarding how high above ground drones can be flown (usually not more than 400 feet or 120 meters), how far (visible line of sight), how heavy the drone can be, overfly restrictions and minimum distances from people, etc. For anything beyond those restrictions special licenses or waivers are required.

Special permits and waivers might come with special pilot certification requirements. In the US for example section 333 exemptions require the pilot to hold a pilot license for manned aircraft. Part 107 waivers required for night flight operations come with special training requirements.


  1. Without properly trained and licensed pilots it is likely that nobody in the company fully understands legal requirements and operating restrictions of drones. If the law of the country requires pilots to be licensed for the type of drones used and they are not, then the audit manager should contact executive management without delay and insist on an immediate hold of drone operations, until the situation is rectified.
  2. Persons who pilot drones without the required certification expose themselves and the company to unacceptable legal and financial risks and possibly criminal charges. Accidents caused by such persons might not be covered by existing insurance contracts.

Audit Steps

  1. Understand the legal requirements for pilot certifications as per local laws.
  2. Understand the legal requirement for periodic updates or renewals of permits and licenses.
  3. Review internal requirements for pilot certification.
  4. Review license requirements triggered by the nature of the payload carried by drones.
  5. Review how certification requirements are met when pilots fly in countries with different legal requirements.
  6. Sample test pilot certification based on pilot names in mission log entries or other relevant sources.


drone audit program index