Understanding how to compliantly operate a UAS under Part 107 during civil twilight and night in controlled and uncontrolled airspace.

As you likely already know, on January 15, 2021, the FAA published its final rule for the Remote Identification of Unmanned Aircraft in the Federal Register.  The final rule included changes to the existing requirements for operating UAS at night as well as UAS operations over people. Coming into effect today, April 21st are updates to drone operations at night/ civil twilight in controlled airspace for Part 107 pilots. Operators will have 26 days to be in compliance with the new regulations for operating a UAS at night. Keep reading for tips on how to compliantly operate a UAS under Part 107 during civil twilight and night in controlled and uncontrolled airspace.

Updates to Civil Twilight and Night Operations in Controlled Airspace

From April 21, 2021 through May 17, 2021, operators may either continue to operate under a valid nighttime waiver (waiver to 107.29) through Drone Zone, or operate in compliance with the new Nighttime Rule. After May 17, 2021, nighttime waivers will no longer be valid, operators must be in compliance with the new rule. Under the new Nighttime Rule, you can fly at night/ civil twilight in controlled airspace if you have a LAANC authorization that was approved for that day. Currently, the LAANC system only allows for approval of daytime authorizations. Until our LAANC update in Fall 2021 in conjunction with FAA updates, if you attempt to apply for LAANC at night, you will be blocked from doing so. Until then to fly at night in controlled airspace you will need to:

  1. Have a current Part 107 certification and completed the updated recurrent online training  (Read more about the new recurrent course and exam here) or have passed the Unmanned Aircraft General – Small airman knowledge test on or after April 6, 2021.
  2. 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.
  3. Have a valid LAANC authorization at or below the approved altitude in the UAS Facility Maps for THAT DAY. (e.g. get an authorization for 2 pm that day to fly at 10 pm that night).
  4. Have a print or digital copy of the National Authorization that extends your daytime authorization to allow nighttime operations for the date indicated on the LAANC authorization.
    • Note: You do not have to apply for the National Authorization, drone operators can access it here. The National Authorization is effective only in conjunction with LAANC issued authorizations at or below the Unmanned Aircraft System Facility Map (UASFM) values of the same calendar day. Nighttime operations that carry over from one calendar day to the next will require separate LAANC daytime authorizations each calendar day.

For example, let’s say I have a project where I need to operate my drone from 6:30 – 9:30 pm PDT in Class D controlled airspace surrounding KBFI in Seattle, Washington. Because sunset is at 8:04 pm at this location, I would be required to apply for a LAANC authorization from 6:30 pm- 8:04 pm (because that would be the period of daylight hours of my intended operation) and have a print or digital copy of the National Authorization. Then before sunset at 8:04 pm, I would need to land my drone, establish a night landing area that is illuminated by lights, turn on my drone’s anti-collision light, and then I could continue my operations into the night. Flying with extra caution and VOs during night operations is highly recommended as well. 

Further coordination requests for night operations between April and September 2021 must be submitted via FAA Drone Zone.

How to Safely and Compliantly Operate a UAS during Civil Twilight and Night in Uncontrolled Airspace

Effective as of March 16th, 2021, all current Part 107 pilots, who also pass the new recurrent test, are eligible to operate in uncontrolled airspace at night/twilight without a waiver. 

If you have never operated a UAS at night here are a few tips to ensure your operation is safe and FAA compliant:

  1. Remember night operations are categorized as any operation which takes place between evening and morning civil twilight. Evening civil twilight starts at sunset until 30 minutes after sunset and morning civil twilight is the period of 30 minutes prior to sunrise until sunrise. For example, sunset in my location is at 8:04 pm and sunrise is at 6:15 am so if I’d like to operate my drone anytime between 8:04 pm today and 6:15 am tomorrow, I will need to abide by the rules and regulations of night/ civil twilight operations. On the Aloft app, you can view when sunset is at any location on the map under the ‘Preflight’ info bar and then ‘Daylight’ which as you can see in the screenshot that sunset is at 8:04 pm today.
  2.  Look 5 to 10 degrees off-center of the sUAS to help compensate for the night blind spots (the loss of sharpness, color, depth perception, and judgment of size in the center of your field of vision at night).
  3. Avoid looking at bright lights after adapting to darkness
  4. It is strongly recommended especially if you are new to night operations, to designate one or more visual observers (VOs) to scan for other aircraft or obstacles during your operation.
  5. Establish a night landing area that is illuminated by lights.
  6. Immediately land the sUAS if you cannot determine its location relative to another aircraft.
  7. Always make sure your anti-collision light is on and visible up to 3 miles away to maintain FAA compliance and aid in the visibility of the aircraft before take-off. There are many companies that sell after-market lighting solutions for popular drone brands. One brand with a good reputation is LumeCube.

We hope you find this information useful and best of luck in your night operations. Feel free to contact our team with any questions at support@aloft.ai.