New regulations go into effect on April 1st which will affect your plans for obtaining a student pilot certificate. Originally, you would go to an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) and get your medical and student certificate at the same time. Now you have to apply for your student pilot certificate and wait until the TSA checks your background and mails you a student pilot certificate. “The FAA estimates that the turnaround time for student pilot certificates can be reduced to an average of 3 weeks or less, provided that initial security vetting by TSA indicates that the applicant is eligible for the certificate.”
Three weeks seems rather short. The FAA said in the notice of proposed rulemaking for the commercial drone regulations that the TSA vetting for commercial drone operator applications “could take about 6 to 8 weeks after receipt of an application for the FAA to issue an applicant an unmanned aircraft operator certificate with a small UAS rating.” I think this is a more realistic number.
Factoring in mailing and processing time (1-2 weeks), it looks like a student pilot should apply for their student pilot certificate 7-10 weeks before they need to solo. Additionally, this could mean that it also might be 7-10 weeks from taking your Part 107 exam in the future to the actual 107 drone operator certificate being in your hand.
One potential benefit to working on a 333 and obtaining a pilot certificate now is that the TSA background check could potentially also be applied to your future Part 107 drone operator certificate. “A successful [security threat assessment] is generally valid for five years, but may be revoked during that time if TSA’s recurrent vetting reveals that the individual poses or may pose a security threat.” There is the potential that your student pilot certificate background vetting can also be used towards your Part 107 certificate so you can be processed faster.
To help out individuals going for their pilot licenses, I compiled a list of ways you can reduce the costs of flight training based upon my years of flight instructing students for their private pilot certificates. Attached is the document.
When you need help with getting a Section 333 exemption, public COA, or a ground breaking exemption (night, moving vehicle, 500ft+, etc.), don’t hire a poser – hire a lawyer who is also a pilot.
 81 Fed. Reg. 1,299 (Jan. 12, 2016), available at https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2016-01-12/pdf/2016-00199.pdf