Nighttime flights can provide drone pilots with new opportunities and perspectives and are sometimes essential for tasks such as security monitoring or search and rescue missions. Whether you’re seeking a unique photo opportunity, or it is critical to your operations, it’s possible to fly your drone safely and reliably at night. However, it is crucial to understand the regulations governing nighttime drone flights to ensure compliance with the law. To learn everything, you need to know about flying drones at night, have a look at our comprehensive guide.
What are the Part 107 rules for flying at night?
Part 107 licensed drone pilots are permitted to conduct nighttime operations as long as they meet two requirements. Firstly, they must have completed either an online recurrent training or an updated initial knowledge test. Secondly, their drones must be equipped with anti-collision lighting that is visible for at least three statute miles and flashing at a rate that is sufficient to avoid collisions.
If you do not currently hold a Part 107 license, the application process remains unchanged. With night operations allowed, you can expect some of the questions in the knowledge test to touch on how to fly drones at night and the risks associated with it. To help you prepare for the knowledge test, Pilot Institute’s Part 107 Made Easy course can help you pass the FAA Part 107 drone license test. The FAA Safety website offers a variety of other training modules that may be valuable to drone pilots and worth exploring.
What are the recreational drone pilot rules for flying at night?
Recreational drone pilots don’t need a license to fly their drones at night. However, when flying drones at night, all of the standard daytime flight rules apply. Pilots still need to fly below 400 feet Above Ground Level (AGL), maintain visual line of sight (VLOS), and their drones must be equipped with operational anti-collision lights, which can be seen for 3 statute miles and have a flash rate sufficient to avoid a collision.
Flying at night in controlled airspace
Part 107 drone pilots can take advantage of a LAANC system that allows for night operations in controlled airspace. By submitting a request through LAANC, pilots can receive authorization to fly at night as long as they specify the hours during which they plan to operate their drone. Keep in mind that all other regulations on night operations still apply when flying in controlled airspace.
Starting on February 20, 2023, recreational flyers may now apply for near real-time airspace authorizations to operate at night through LAANC. It’s important to note that recreational flyers must meet the requirements of the Exception for Limited Operations of Unmanned Aircraft and follow the safety guidelines of FAA-Recognized Community Based Organizations (CBO’s).
With the release of LAANC v6.2 on the SkyGrid Flight Control platform recently, we hope you have had a chance to update your app and try out the new LAANC at night functionality. This version of LAANC allows recreational pilots to request authorization to operate during the night in controlled airspace directly in the SkyGrid Flight Control app.
What anti-collision lights should you use?
Anti-collision lights are designed to make drones visible to any manned aircraft flying overhead, which is why they are installed on the top of the drone. The lights are not primarily intended to make the drone visible to the drone pilot, although it is a bonus if they are bright enough to be visible from the ground. The main purpose is to ensure that other aircraft in the vicinity can see the drone and avoid a potential collision. There are four things to look out for when looking for appropriate anti-collision lights:
- Regularity of light (i.e., light is blinking/strobe)
- Color of light (i.e., light is white or red)
- Do the lights comply with the 3-statute mile visibility requirement of the FAA?
- How well do the lights perform when mounted at the top of the drone?
Getting your lights right is essential not just to avoid colliding with another drone but to avoid endangering a manned flight. Many companies sell after-market lighting solutions for popular drone brands. Pilot Institute has tested some of the most popular anti-collision lights and compared their features and visibility at night in this article.
Tips to ensure safe and FAA-compliant operations when flying a UAS at night:
- Make sure your anti-collision light is on and visible from up to 3 miles away before take-off to maintain FAA compliance and aid in visibility of the aircraft. After-market lighting solutions are available from companies such as LumeCube, which has a good reputation
- To compensate for night blind spots, try looking 5 to 10 degrees off-center of the sUAS
- Consider designating one or more visual observers (VOs) to scan for other aircraft or obstacles during your operation
- Remember that night operations are defined as any operation that takes place between evening and morning civil twilight. This is important to keep in mind as you plan your flight.
- Establish a well-lit night landing area
- Immediately land the UAS if you cannot determine its location relative to other aircraft.
The ability to fly drones at night without the need for waivers has significantly improved the capabilities of drone pilots. After a transitional period, this benefit has also been extended to controlled airspace through quick and efficient LAANC requests. This increased flexibility has not only benefited drone pilots, but it has also reduced the workload for the FAA by eliminating the need for waiver processing.
This is just one example of how drone legislation is rapidly evolving. The FAA’s support of the growing drone community is evident through this change. As drone pilots, it’s important to comply with the rules to ensure safe nighttime operations.
To benefit from enhanced and unprecedented access to the airspace like never before, download SkyGrid Flight Control for free today.