There are two plastic cards in my wallet that have special meaning for me. One I earned 55 years ago and it was a rite of passage that most of us yearned for, my driver’s license. It has taken many different forms and colors as I moved from state to state, and has been a record of my getting old as the little pictures clearly document.

The other is blue with ghost images of a commercial jet aircraft and the Wright Flyer on the front, and Orville and Wilber Wright on the back. The front has “United States of America” in bold capital letters across the top, followed in small print, “Department of Transportation — Federal Aviation Administration” (FAA). It is my Private Pilot Certificate. Officially it is a certificate, not a license, but it is commonly known as a pilot’s license. I have had this plastic card in my wallet for 38 years.

I am about to add a third card from the FAA. It is different. When a pilot adds an advanced rating or, in layman’s terms, another level of certified skill as a pilot, you have the rating such as commercial, multi-engine, sea plane, added to your pilot certificate plastic card. My new card will stand alone and will have much of the same wording and images but it will identify a new type of certificate.

The official e-mail came to me Jan. 1 from the FAA informing me I was now a “Remote Pilot — Small Unmanned Aircraft System.” I am now an FAA certified drone pilot under the Federal Aviation Rules (FARs) Part 107. I was provided a temporary paper certificate until the plastic card arrives in the mail.

There is an irony with both my pilot’s license and my drone license. I earned my pilot’s license to join my brother-in-law in an aerial photography business called Aero-Graphics. We flew all over the country taking aerial pictures of farms and then selling them to the individual farmers or commercial operations. We were pretty good and made a respectable living at it. Times and things changed and I found myself moving on to other adventures and career paths. I still maintained my flying skills. The irony is that a person holding an FAA Part 107 Remote Pilots Certification can now take the aerial photographs and sell them commercially. You don’t have to be a pilot to attain the part 107 certification, you just have to pass an FAA written test. A drone is much less expensive to operate than a piloted airplane.

I’m not going into the aerial photo business again, but my Part 107 Certificate is part of my being able to teach the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) curriculum to our students in the Highlands Aviation and Aerospace Academy.

You may be thinking, “Why do I need to go through all the hoops to get a Part 107 FAA Remote Pilot Certificate? I received this nice drone under the Christmas tree and I can go outside and fly it on my own.” Yes, you can do that as a drone owner flying recreationally and many people are doing just that. You will need to register the drone over a certain weight with the FAA and there is much debate going on about how to regulate drones flown recreationally. Flying a drone in the wrong place can be dangerous: flying near or around an airport, or flying in an area of an emergency, such as a wildfire being fought by aerial tankers or other emergency operations.

Before we left for the holiday break, I shared with my academy students that we were going to move to the UAS curriculum in January. I explained briefly what the bright future of becoming a remote pilot of a drone might mean for them. It was a few days before the end of school and I was getting a bunch of “lizard looks,” as if to say “I just want to get out of here and get on with the holiday break.” That was when Kyle raised his hand and mentioned that he has a friend that he met in his Radio-Controlled Model Aircraft competition that has a Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate. His friend is now working in Hollywood shooting commercials and other video assignments and is earning in excess of $300,000 per year. That woke everyone up! Not every Part 107 Remote Pilot is going to earn that annual salary, but drones are the future. Think of all the aerial shots you see in movies, commercials and real estate listings. A drone took them, and a Part 107 Remote Pilot was at the controls. Drones are used by the insurance industry to survey damage, used in crop monitoring, search and rescue, and many other applications.

We are providing our Highlands County Aviation and Aerospace Academy students the opportunity to earn their FAA part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate if they choose to. It is another “option and opportunity” being offered as a part of our program.

John Rousch is the director of the Highlands Aviation and Aerospace Academy, a community partnership supporting youth aviation education. He can be reached at, call or text 863-273-0522.