When Do Things Change for Recreational Operators? The FAA Reauthorization Timeline

H.R. 302, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, became Public Law No. 115- 254 on October 5, 2018.  The FAA Reauthorization Act repealed Section 336, which protected recreational drones from new regulations.  An aeronautical knowledge test and new requirements are in store for hobby flyers – but when will these changes be enacted?

This article is merely for educational purposes and is in no way to be construed as legal advice.  You can review the complete text of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 here.

The Timeline

Don’t panic.  Although the repeal of Section 336 is now law, the aeronautical knowledge test won’t be administered immediately – and the details of the changes are still under discussion.

The text of the law states specifically that the Administrator has up to 6 months to develop an aeronautical knowledge and safety test “in consultation with manufacturers of unmanned aircraft systems, other industry stakeholders, and community-based organizations.”  “Community-based organizations” (CBOs) refer to non-profit flight organizations like the AMA who apply for that designation, and it’s good news for the hobbyist community that advocacy groups like the AMA will be involved with the development and the administration of the test.

The test will be administered electronically by the FAA, CBOs, “or a person designated by the Administrator,” which leaves it open to expansion.

We don’t know if the FAA has already started to develop a test, or how long implementation of another online testing system will take.  The description of the test in the text of the bill is very broad, stating only that the purpose is to demonstrate an understanding of “aeronautical safety knowledge” and knowledge of FAA requirements for unmanned aircraft operation.

The Fine Print

(See more on this topic in our earlier article: FAA Reauthorization Explained Part 1).  The relevant section of the document (349, for anyone following along) states that recreational drones may be flown “without specific certification or operating authority” – in plain English, without a Part 107 Remote Pilot Certification – as long as it meets the following 8 requirements, quoted below.  In addition, the text says that the FAA will establish a process to periodically update the requirements in consultation with CBOs such as the AMA and other stakeholders.

All of these except number 7 (the aeronautical knowledge test) and possibly number 8 (registration) are points that responsible recreational pilots already know about:

“(1) The aircraft is flown strictly for recreational purposes.

“(2) The aircraft is operated in accordance with or within the programming of a community-based organization’s set of safety guidelines that are developed in coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration.

“(3) The aircraft is flown within the visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft or a visual observer co-located and in direct communication with the operator.

“(4) The aircraft is operated in a manner that does not interfere with and gives way to any manned aircraft.

“(5) In Class B, Class C, or Class D airspace or within the lateral boundaries of the surface area of Class E airspace designated for an airport, the operator obtains prior authorization from the Administrator or designee before operating and complies with all airspace restrictions and prohibitions.

“(6) In Class G airspace, the aircraft is flown from the surface to not more than 400 feet above ground level and complies with all airspace restrictions and prohibitions.

“(7) The operator has passed an aeronautical knowledge and safety test described in subsection (g) and maintains proof of test passage to be made available to the Administrator or law enforcement upon request.

“(8) The aircraft is registered and marked in accordance with chapter 441 of this title and proof of registration is made available to the Administrator or a designee of the Administrator or law enforcement upon request.


Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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