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Can a Felon Get a Drone License?

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Felons being released from prison may want to find a recreational activity like hunting, fishing, or flying a drone. Also, some may have an interest in flying a drone commercially. Felons often believe no one will hire them, but there are resources available as many employers have found that felons make good employees.

This blog post will address the issue of whether or not a felon can get a drone license.

  • What is a Drone?
  • Drone Registration
  • Drone License
  • Criminal Background Check
  • Recommended Action


What is a Drone?

A drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle that is navigated manually with a remote control or operated with software that works with a GPS System.  It is made of light materials to reduce weight and increase maneuverability. It’s also equipped with technology such as cameras, GPS, and lasers.

An unmanned aerial vehicle system has two parts: the drone itself and the control system.

The nose of the unmanned aerial vehicle is where the sensors and navigation system resign. Materials used in the construction of the drone are complex composites that can absorb vibration to decrease any noise produced.

Drones come in a variety of sizes. The largest is used for military purposes such as the Predator drone. Next are those with fixed wings, requiring a short runway. These are typically used to work in areas such as geographical surveying and to safeguard wildlife from illegal hunting.

Then there are vertical takeoff and landing drones (VTOL), many of which are quadcopters that can take off, fly, hover, and land vertically.

Drone Registration

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has established guidelines regarding registration requirements for flying drones recreationally. Anyone flying a drone indoors does not need a remote pilot’s license and may not even need to register their drone with the FAA.

If someone flies a drone outdoors for recreational purposes, he or she will need to register the device. There are two options for flying a drone recreationally.

In the first case for a drone that:

  • Is flown as a hobby and for recreational reasons
  • Follows local community guidelines
  • Is kept within a visual line-of-sight
  • Yields to any and all manned aircraft
  • Remains at least five miles away from airports and air traffic control towers
  • Does not weigh more than 55 pounds

A person can also fly a drone for recreational purposes if the person has a valid remote pilot’s license. The restrictions for recreational flights are that a person must:

  • Register a drone as a non-model, unmanned aerial vehicle
  • Follow the FAA’s small UAS rules, Part 107
  • Have a valid remote pilot’s license

Basically, if someone plans to fly a drone in the field, park, or other open area where there are not manned aircraft passing through and there is no immediate threat power lines or people, he or she does not need a remote pilot’s license. That person will still need to register the drone and ensure that is only being used as a hobby, however.

Drone License

New rules were established by the Federal Aviation Administration for the legal piloting of a drone in situations that require having a drone license. In order to get a drone license someone must:

  • Be at least 16 years old
  • Have a valid government-issued picture ID with name, address, and signature
  • Pass an exam administered by the FAA
  • Apply for a remote pilot certificate
  • Complete a TSA background check

The FAA exam is a 60 question multiple-choice test and covers several areas:

  • FAA regulations
  • Airspace and requirements
  • Weather
  • Loading and performance
  • Operations

A passing score is 70% on the exam.

Criminal Background Check

Commercial drone pilots must undergo a criminal background check before legally operating aircraft in U.S. airspace. A pilot must receive a security threat assessment background test from the TSA before being allowed to operate.

This is the same background check used to screen pilots and airport security personnel. Having a criminal record is not an immediate cause for denial of a license.

A criminal background check is handled by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Those convicted of a felony fall into two different categories.

The first category is for anyone who is convicted of a felony involving any of the following crimes:

  • Espionage
  • Sedition
  • Treason
  • A federal crime of terrorism
  • A transportation issue involving a significant loss of life, environmental damage, or economic disruption
  • A crime involving explosives (including threats of an explosive)
  • Improper transportation of a hazardous material
  • Murder
  • Racketeering

For those falling into any of these areas, they are permanently prohibited from getting a drone license regardless of when the crime occurred.

Then, there is a second category of felonies. This class of felonies is termed interim disqualifying criminal offenses. These are ones for which felons were convicted within seven years of the date of the application, or if the applicant was released from prison after conviction within five years of the date of the application.

Crimes in this category include:

  • Illegal possession, use, sale, purchase, or other dealing with a firearm
  • Extortion
  • Dishonesty
  • Fraud
  • Money laundering
  • Bribery
  • Smuggling
  • Distribution or possession of a controlled substance
  • Kidnapping
  • Rape or sexual abuse
  • Aggravated assault
  • Robbery

In order to be successful in their pursuit of getting a drone license, it’s essential for felons to be honest about their background. They are already working with the negative perceptions of being dishonest, untrustworthy, and unwilling or unable to follow directions from authority figures.

There are re-entry programs, such as drug treatment, and educational opportunities for felons who need them. For many felons, having their felony expunged can give them the chance they need to begin with a clean record and succeed in getting a drone license.

Having their record expunged will permit a felon to be able to honestly state on a drone license application that he or she has not been convicted of a felony and increase the chances of success.

Recommended Action

It is a significant challenge, but it might be worth it for a felon that wants to get a drone license. Having his or her record expunged and also documenting any training programs or additional education could make the essential difference in a felon succeeding in getting a drone license.

Having support from family, friends, or previous employers can make a huge difference. A felon doesn’t have to be defined by his or her crime. We are not defined by our mistakes but by how we recover from them. He or she can begin again and live an honest life no matter how difficult it might seem.

What do you think about this blog post? Have you or someone you know been in the situation of trying to get a drone license with a felony? What was that like for him or her, and how did he or she achieve success? Please tell us in the comments below.

7 thoughts on “Can a Felon Get a Drone License?”

  1. just wondered if tsa has given licenses to a felon before the seven year period if he was not incarceerated for interim disqualifying offense???

  2. There is always a blanket “crime” thrown in that allows for denial of virtually anyone with a record, especially property crimes that don’t fall into any of the permanent or interim reasons; the one used here is “dishonesty.” That term is so general it can apply to virtually any crime.

  3. This article is good, however, I think it would be good to mention that “expungement” varies by state, and in some states such as Florida, you cannot get an expungement for any felony conviction. You could get an arrest that did not result in a conviction expunged, but there is no way anyone will get an actual felony conviction sealed or expunged in Florida. Several other states work this way as well. Technically, there is one legal kind of loophole that you could use but its a long shot. If you have a felony conviction, you can get an attorney to go back and petition the court to modify the sentence, and remove the adjudication of guilt. Without the conviction, you then become eligible for expungement.

    • Another thing they don’t mention is how expensive everything is. Lawyers cost money court fees and all that jazz. Trying to find a job is extremely difficult, without funds doing any process is damn near impossible. The dishonesty blanket is a joke. I believe it’s a prerequisite for being a politician.

  4. So, did they actually straight out DENY you for a commercial drone pilot’s license? The thing that irks the heck out of me is that if it wasn’t bad enough that felons are outright denied state/Fed licensing for various occupations, worse still is that those of us who have had felonies expunged from our records and we STILL get denied govt. occupational licensing. For example, I was convicted of domestic violence, successfully passed my 3 yr. formal probation stint, “kept my nose clean” except for a misdemeanor for Loitering I picked up while homeless (VERY easy to happen while homeless btw) and the state of California Dept. of Consumer Affairs/ Bureau of Security and Investigative Services STILL proceeded to deny me a “Security Guard Card”, and Private Investigators license, and Fed’s disqualified me for working as a Mercenary (Soldier-for-hire, now better-known as Civilian- Govt.-Defense Contractor. Disqualified from casino security/surveillance. So now wondering if even with expungement that TSA will bar me from acquiring FAA 107 license.

    Regardless, our whole criminal justice system needs a complete overhaul. The “system” is so completely “rigged” they do NOT REALLY want to put a stop to crime, being that there are privately owned/operated jails and prisons and that the owner-operators of such instituitions actually PROFIT off each and every inmate AND for how long they are incarcerated FOR, they constantly bribe and lobby our lawmakers and the judicial system as well to keep inventing more and more laws and stiffer penalties/sentences so thereby THEY ALL PROFIT and regardless of what we do to pay for our crimes, give back to society, the “powers-that-be” work tirelessly to make things harder and HARDER for all of us current/former felons – increasingly becoming to the point of flat out IMPOSSIBLE for us. It ain’t right….. And then it should come as NO surprise why it is that we, the U.S.A. have the HIGHEST INCARCERATION RATE of the ENTIRE world…..

  5. Unfortunately, that is the way they want it. I’m not sure why, or how there is so much money on trying to keep us in crime, but there is.

  6. I’m a felon from the mistakes of my past. Multiple DUI’s got me into some trouble. Right now I’m actively involved in setting up my Drone Business in Alaska. Thanks for the info.


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