TOP Program FAQ

What is the Trusted Operator Program™?

There are training courses available to the prospective drone pilot, however, so far there has been no industry unification with respect to remote pilot competency training or testing programs. AUVSI has worked with industry experts to create the AUVSI Trusted Operator Program™ (TOP) to ensure that remote pilot training conforms to industry standards and supporting trust and acceptance of the use of unmanned aircraft around the world. TOP is a professional unmanned systems community initiative aimed at supporting industry accepted remote pilot standards and protocols, which will result in the safe and sustainable advancement of the industry.   

What is the TOP Protocol Certification Manual (PCM)?

A protocol, is defined as a specified level of knowledge, ability, performance or compliance. Applicants for TOP certification must demonstrate conformance with each protocol applicable to the level of certification The TOP Protocols Certification Manual points to over 300 established accredited standards, policies, procedures, best practice and codes of conduct.  The TOP PCM establishes the certification requirements for individuals and organizations to become recognized as safe, competent and reliable commercial UAS service providers, certified under the Trusted Operator Program™

Who/What can be TOP Certified?

Both individuals and organizations operating UAS for commercial purposes and certain other non-hobby purposes may become TOP certified. Non-hobby purposes include UAS operations by government agencies operating under an FAA certificate of waiver authorization (COA) or equivalent in other countries. This category also includes voluntary service organizations.

Are there different TOP Operator certification levels?

Yes, there are three levels of certification - Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3.

What level of certification is right for you?

Level 1 - Operations that include the following:

  • Routine operations under FAR Part 107
  • Operations that do not require a waiver of FAR Part 107
  • Operations in which the remote pilot is competent and proficient
  • Flights using electric aircraft less than 5 lbs or 2 kg
  • Operations that do not have any of the characteristics mentioned in Level 2 or 3 such as operations close to airports, helipads, populated areas, people and livestock.


Level 2 - Operations that include the following:

  • Any of the characteristics of Level 1 plus,
  • Any operation that requires a waiver under FAR Part 107
  • Operations that require a visual observer, or sensor operator
  • Operations with elevated risk factors or complexity including but not limited to operations close to airports, helipads, populated areas, people and livestock.


Level 3 - Operations that include the following:

  • Any of the characteristics of Level 2 plus the following:
  • Operations in safety-critical and complex areas that require higher levels of risk mitigation
    • Industrial and chemical facilities, including offshore oil rigs, mine sites, power plants
    • Infrastructure, including wind turbines, powerlines, communications towers, rail and pipelines.
  • Operations in any hazardous or extreme environments including:
    • From ships, moving vehicles, aircraft, confined areas and underground
    • Within close proximity to and within severe weather (storm research)
    • Remote, harsh or hostile locations, including wildlife considerations
  • Operations requiring the development and testing of new procedures


What are individual remote pilots?

Individual remote pilots are those providing commercial UAS services on their own, or as workers for a commercial UAS organization. Remote pilots who are already fully trained may gain TOP certification by providing evidence of achieving protocols outlined in the PCM, including requisite flight assessment. TOP training providers and TOP certification bodies can deliver this certification.

What are Remote Pilot Instructors?

A TOP remote pilot instructor is an individual who is, at a minimum, certified a Level 2 TOP Operator remote pilot who has met the additional PCM certification requirements to instruct and assess student remote pilots. TOP remote pilot instructors may only train students to the level of certification they themselves hold, i.e., an instructor with a Level 2 certification cannot train students for Level 3 certification.

What is a TOP Operator Training Provider?

Organizations operating UAS for commercial and certain other non-hobby purposes may become TOP certified as service providers. Non-hobby purposes include UAS operations by government agencies operating under an FAA certificate of waiver or authorization (COA). This category also includes voluntary service organizations. A service provider with two or more workers must have at least two remote pilots accountable for safety and training, certified as TOP remote pilots or one remote pilot instructor to maintain its status as a TOP-certified service provider.

Who Are Certifying Bodies?

TOP certifying bodies are organizations that specialize in formal operational, safety and quality audits and assessments as their core function. They may also provide certifications, audits and assessments to the aviation and broader industries (such as oil and gas, utilities, mining and construction), and have appropriately qualified lead auditors, auditors and qualified assessment staff. TOP certifying bodies do not provide basic aviation or remote pilot training.

What Does a Top Certifying Body Do?

TOP certifying bodies are authorized and monitored by AUVSI to provide TOP Operator Level 1, 2 and 3 certifications in accordance with the PCM. These certifications include management system performance, operational procedures performance, training program performance, maintenance and inspection program performance, safety management system performance, proficiency flight assessments (PFAs), and functional area sign-offs.

Why Are Certifying Bodies Needed?

As with other aviation safety audits, certifying bodies conduct audits and certification of individuals/organizations at the request of an end user (customer), i.e. oil and gas, mining, utilities, construction, law and insurance firms. It is common practice for end users of aviation services to conduct this type of due diligence prior to and during service contracts of the service provider. By purchasing UAS flight services from a TOP certified operator, the buyer will have assurance that the operator meets protocols for competency and safety established by AUVSI.