Can You Fly a Drone at Night? Everything You Need to Know

Mar 10, 2021

Updated (March 10th, 2021): New Part 107 Regulations

2021 brings a host of new requirements for both commercial and hobbyist UAS operators, the most important and hotly debated rulings mandate equipping Remote ID technology, and also allow for Operations Over People in certain scenarios. Buried within the Operations Over People ruling is a shift in the FAA’s policy that has required Part 107 operators to undergo the tedious and often confusing process to obtain a Part 107.29 Daylight Operations Waiver.

Starting March 16th, 2021 the rule will go into full effect and allow Part 107 operators to fly at night, defined by the FAA as the time between the end of evening civil twilight (30 minutes after official sunset) and the beginning of morning civil twilight (30 minutes before official sunrise). Instead of requiring submission of a Daylight Operations Waiver to the FAA, which has been the most popular and also the most granted waiver submission since Part 107 has been released, the operator only needs to meet two requirements:

  1. The remote pilot in command must complete an updated initial knowledge test or online recurrent training, and
  1. The small unmanned aircraft must have lighted anti-collision lighting visible for at least three (3) statute miles that has a flash rate sufficient to avoid a collision.

It is expected that the updated initial knowledge test and recurrent training curriculum will be available next month, operators need to make sure that they have proof of this training available if they plan to operate at night. Training will cover human factor considerations when operating at night and other operational considerations. In addition, the operator is responsible for verifying their anti collision lighting meets visibility requirements before operating at night. Just as in manned aviation, the intensity may be reduced at the decision of the RPIC due to certain conditions.Interestingly, the FAA does not require position lighting for night operations, which give the operator situational awareness to determine the direction of the UAS flight path. Keep this in mind if you’re new to night flight! Also, the FAA did not set minimum requirements on flash rate for the anti-collision light, so use your best judgement. 

Iris Automation has requested additional clarification on how the new rule will interact with Low Altitude and Notification Capability (LAANC) services, which typically required both an airspace authorization and a waiver. As an extra layer of safety, reach out to your local Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) for clarification before you attempt to request a LAANC authorization at night. Keep in mind that even if you don’t meet these new requirements, the FAA may still issue a night waiver if you’re able to prove the operation can be conducted safely.

Original article (July 1st 2020)

There are many reasons why a person or organization would want to fly a drone at night—either for operations that specifically occur at night, such as delivering emergency medical equipment, to avoid other aircraft since there are fewer flights at night, or to avoid flying over people. In order to fly at night legally in the United States, a Daylight Waiver (specifically a waiver from Part 107.29 – Daylight Operations) is required. You can apply for a Daylight Waiver from Part 107.29 by submitting an application on the FAA’s Dronezone website.

Part 107 are the regulations governing the commercial drone space. When it comes to flying a drone at night, the FAA based these laws on the manned private pilot regulations Part 61 and Part 91, which prohibit flying during the night without special training and instruments. Night is defined by the FAA as the time between the end of evening civil twilight (when the geometric center of the sun reaches 6° below the horizon, or 30 minutes after official sunset) and the beginning of morning civil twilight (when the geometric center of the sun is 6° below the horizon, or 30 minutes before official sunrise). Neither private planes nor commercial drones may fly during this time without anti-collision lights as specified by the FAA, and operating a drone requires a Part 107.29 Daylight Operations waiver.

Daylight Operations waivers are the most common Part 107 waiver applied for and one of the more simple applications. The waiver is called the Daylight Operation waiver because when you ask for permission to fly at night, you’re asking to have the Part 107 rule requiring UAS pilots to fly only during daylight hours temporarily waived (Part 107.29). The application asks, in part, how a drone operator will maintain visibility and knowledge of the position, altitude, etc of their UAS during darkness and the collision avoidance mitigations that have been taken to ensure a high level of safety.

Considerations when applying for a Daylight Operations waiver

The FAA has increased the speed of their turnaround for Part 107.29 waivers, so although the process isn’t typically as long as it does for other waivers, it still takes time to go through the process, so it needs to be submitted early if you have a night operation plan. Particularly since the majority of applications are denied and you will likely need to submit additional information to re-apply. As with all waiver applications, it helps to be as thorough as you can about your safety plans, such as having a night visual observer, having the appropriate steps taken into account for reduced visibility at night, and making sure you’re operating your drone well away from the public and especially away from groups of people. 

If you did write in a visual observer for your waiver to increase safety of the operation, there would be no difference between what constitutes a night vs daylight visual observer. They do not need to be licensed in anything, and should NOT use any type of optical aids to maintain sight of the UAS. The FAA does not allow these aids in other visual observer requirements, as that significantly starts to muddy the waters on the definition of line-of-sight. Reduced visibility measures include having anti-collision lights, which are (1) red or white and (2) blinking/strobing and must be visible for three statute miles or more. 

By default the waiver is for a one-time only operation, such as for a concert. If you are pursuing ongoing commercial missions, make sure to word your waiver in such a way that you can attempt to get a permanent Daylight Operations waiver for night capable UAS operations.