Can You Fly Your Drone at Night?
Have you ever noticed how the nighttime brings certain places to life?
Across the world, places like New York City, London, Los Angeles, Sydney and more, are lovely when bathed in sunlight – but become magical at night.
Even remote landscapes far from the footprint of humans take on a unique splendor when the sun dips below the horizon, and the stars take over to light the skies.
As a drone pilot, you probably focus on your work during daylight hours. But, many of us, including myself, sometimes forget these flying cameras offer plenty of artistic and commercial uses after the sun goes down.
And, there are plenty of situations flying your drone at night is either desired or necessary. Besides a different visual perspective for photographs, thermal inspections, security surveillance, and search an rescue missions are all good reasons to take to the night skies.
Many times, pilots avoid flying drones at night because they aren’t sure if they are allowed, or what special rules and regulations apply.
But, whether you’re trying to capture stunning shots of nightlife, or tasked with gathering your data when a site is less active, sometimes flying at night is what you really need.
So, what does it take? What special rules must you follow?
Well, the rules for flying drones at night changes from country to country.
And, in some cases, regulations for flying drones at night may even change from one city to the next. It can be a bit challenging to wrap your head around the rules.
All you want to do is fly, right?
Though laws and regulations are constantly evolving, it’s always good to check-in and review some of the current rules for flying drones at night.
For this discussion, let’s take a look at the United States and the United Kingdom as examples.
Many other regions follow similar rules, but as always, make sure to check with your country’s airspace authority before taking off into the night skies.
Drone Night Flights in the United States
When I first started flying my drone for commercial purposes in the United States, flying at night required a waiver from the FAA.
The process was a bit ambiguous, and there wasn’t a set format for requesting the waiver.
You also had to hope the application met what the FAA wanted to gain its approval. Though you could eventually get your waiver, it wasn’t the most user-friendly process.
To their credit, the FAA identified this system wasn’t ideal. On May 17, 2021, the rules changed.
Now, waivers are no longer required, and anyone can fly a drone at night as long as you follow specific rules.
First, if you’re flying a drone at night for anything other than a hobby, you’ll need your Part 107 Remote Pilot Certification.
And, when flying drones at night, all of the standard daytime flight rules apply.
You still need to fly below 400 feet Above Ground Level (AGL), maintain visual line of sight (VLOS), request permission to fly in controlled airspace, etc.
If you haven’t taken it already, you will also need to take a night flight training course and pass an exam.
Thankfully the course is available online and free. Though every question on the test must be answered correctly to pass, the course lets you keep trying until you get it right.
Finally, you’ll need to equip your drone with anti-collision lights, visible for three statute miles (as opposed to nautical miles).
With these lights and your Part 107 exam & night flight training test passed, you’re ready to take on the night.
Flying Your Drone at Night in the United Kingdom
For many years, operating drones in the UK was governed under a piece of legislation called the Air Navigation Order 2016.
However, there were moves afoot to align the rules across the whole of the European Union through harmonized regulations. And in fact, the EU Delegated Regulations and Implementing Regulations were set to become law, and replace the Air Navigation Order as the source of rules in the UK.
With Brexit in 2020 however, things changed.
Although the UK still has the EU Regulations in law, which are applicable to the operation of drones, they are UK versions implemented into UK law through the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.
Under the current rules, things are pretty straightforward though.
The CAA document “CAP722 – Unmanned Aircraft System Operations in UK Airspace – Guidance” states that ‘There are no specific prohibitions to VLOS operations during nighttime’. The basic VLOS principles still apply (i.e., you must be able to see the aircraft and the surrounding airspace).
So, when looking at drones in the “open category“, where operations are considered low risk and all required permissions are in place, once the relevant rules are followed, no further authorization from the CAA is required for flying at night.
In the Specific Category things are similar, in that there are no specific prohibitions to night flying. However, it’s worth noting that CAP722 does say that any applications for operational authorizations which include VLOS flight at night are expected to include a ‘night operations’ section within the operations manual.
This should detail the operating procedures to be followed, and include items such as:
- Daylight reconnaissance and site safety assessment of the surrounding area
- Identification and recording of any hazards, restrictions and obstacles
- Illumination of the launch site
- Aircraft lighting/illumination requirements
- Weather limitations for operation.
Also worth noting is that for visibility purposes, at a future time your drone will need fitted with a green flashing light when flying at night. However, the date for this regulation recently changed once again, and is subject to review.
Bringing It Together
Flying at night can add a whole new dimension to your work as a commercial drone pilot. And, in situations like security monitoring or search and rescue missions, sometimes it’s absolutely necessary.
Whether you’re looking for a photo that simply can’t be captured in the day, or your operations require it for any number of reasons, there’s no reason you can’t fly your drone at night safely and reliably.
But, understanding the rules of night flights in your region is critical to keeping you within the boundaries of the law.
Thankfully, most countries have straightforward and easy-to-follow regulations.
When in doubt, contact the governing body for your country’s airspace or speak with a professional today and enjoy flying the evening skies.
So, which drone is right for you? And, where do you start? Do you hire out or bring your drone program in-house?
At Consortiq, we help you find a better way with drones, from consultation and program implementation to actually doing the work for you.
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