Your drone lights up like a Christmas tree at night, but does that mean you can legally fly your aerial drone at night? Some drone pilots think yes, but I haven’t found justification for night flying in the USA without an FAA waiver.
This is another of my blogs where the FAA’s rules are straightforward. You can avoid a lot of boring reading if you will just take my word to fly your aerial drone in daylight conditions unless you receive a waiver from the FAA.
Let’s find out what the FAA has to say about night flying:
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules are found in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) which are federal laws. Those that apply to this topic include:
Title 14 CFR 107.29 Small UAS Daylight Operation.
(a) No person may operate a small unmanned aircraft system during night.
(b) No person may operate a small unmanned aircraft system during periods of civil twilight unless the small unmanned aircraft has lighted anti-collision lighting visible for at least 3 statute miles . . .
(1) Except for Alaska, a period of time that begins 30 minutes before official sunrise and ends at official sunrise.
(2) Except for Alaska, a period of time that begins at official sunset and ends 30 minutes after official sunset.
Reading this excerpt from the rules, the FAA is clear that Aerial Drones shall not be flown at night. However, flying during periods of civil twilight is permitted as long as collision-avoidance lighting requirements are met. Of note, the LED lights on your DJI drone are nowhere near the intensity to qualify for twilight flying; see line (b) above.
The FAA may issue a WAIVER for night flying
Pilots who wish to fly at night may request a certificate of waiver from the FAA’s Administrator. The waiver request must contain a complete description of the proposed operation and justification that establishes that the operation can safely be conducted under the terms of a certificate of waiver.
14 CFR 107.200 Waiver Policy and Requirements:
(a) The Administrator may issue a certificate of waiver authorizing a deviation from any regulation specified in §107.205 if the Administrator finds that a proposed small UAS operation can safely be conducted under the terms of that certificate of waiver.
Of note 14 CFR 107.205 specifically includes flying at night. Your waiver application is submitted to the office of the FAA’s Administrator in Washington, DC.
Can I Fly at Night Under the Model Aircraft Rules of Part 101?
There are some remote pilots that have stated the requirements for 14 CFR 101.41 will allow them to operate at night. In my view, this is a stretch of interpretation for most pilots.
The chapter that covers UAS’s, Part 107, specifically excludes aircraft that are qualified to fly under Part 101. In other words, you can’t use Part 101 rules to justify flying Part 107 aircraft.
Why? Part 101 addresses Moored Balloons, Kites, Amateur Rockets, Unmanned Free Balloons, and Certain Model Aircraft (emphasis mine). Subparagraph 101.41 addresses the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, which some pilots have stated online justify flying their aerial drones at night.
First, there are several requirements that must be met if your aerial drone is to be considered a model aircraft:
- You may fly for hobby or recreation ONLY
- You must register your model aircraft
- You must fly within visual line-of-sight
- You must follow community-based safety guidelines and fly within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization
That’s it. Night flying is not explicitly permitted in the subpart for “Certain Model Aircraft”.
Remote Pilots that are flying commercial off-the-shelf aerial drones, such as those manufactured by DJI, will have a hard time convincing the FAA that you qualify under Part 101 rules. Even if your drone was to qualify under Part 101, the relevant subparts that allow night flying don’t apply to model aircraft. They apply to other aircraft categories, for example:
No person may operate a moored balloon or kite, between sunset and sunrise unless the balloon or kite, and its mooring lines, are lighted so as to give a visual warning equal to that required for obstructions to air navigation in the FAA publication “Obstruction Marking and Lighting”.
When operating Class 2-High Power Rockets or Class 3-Advanced High Power Rockets, you must comply with the General Operating Limitations of §101.23. In addition, you must not operate Class 2-High Power Rockets or Class 3-Advanced High Power Rockets . . .
(d) Between sunset and sunrise without prior authorization from the FAA . . .
No person may operate an unmanned free balloon unless . . .
(b) No person may operate an unmanned free balloon below 60,000 feet standard pressure altitude between sunset and sunrise . . .
None of these sections (17, 25, and 35) should be used to justify flying aerial drones at night.
The FAA is very clear in Part 107 that flying aerial drones at night is not permitted unless the pilot has received a waiver. Using Part 101 is not a good interpretation of the meaning and intent of the FAA’s rules. However, there are those venues where flying at night is permitted and waiverable. Some that come to mind include certain sporting events, law enforcement, and fire and rescue.
Another resource that I’ve cited before is Drone Law Attorney “Rupprecht Law.”
Please read their legal opinion on How to Fly Your Drone at Night.