Can you fly a drone at night? Simply put, yes you can. But there are different rules and regulations depending on what your purpose is for flying your drone and where you choose to fly it. We’ve written about general drone regulations before, but there are special rules if you want to fly a drone after the sun has set.
The rules for night flights have changed over the years and in April 2021 the FAA (the Federal Aviation Administration) released the latest guidance on night flights that removed some of the additional stipulations that once existed, such as additional exemptions.
This is good news, as it means that it should be easier for you to take your drone out at night. Some rules still exist, although they vary depending on whether or not you fly for purely recreational or commercial purposes. We have summarized all the details in the following guide.
Basic rules for flying a drone at night.
Next, we’ll go into more detail about what you need to do specifically to be able to fly a drone at night. But if it’s the shortened version you’re looking for, here’s a short list of everything you need to know:
- Your drone must be registered with the FAA
- Your drone must be equipped with anti-collision lighting
- You must fly your drone safely and within FAA guidelines.
- Must meet FAA training and testing requirements if traveling for business purposes
(Image credit: Getty)
Along with a drone that meets FAA requirements for safe flight, when it comes to night flights, you will also need to have anti-collision lighting that is visible from three miles away. This lighting must be mounted on top of the drone and must also have a sufficient flash speed to avoid a collision.
We recommend something like the Lume Cube STROBE Anti-Collision Light, which costs around $ 40, is compatible with any drone, and most importantly, adheres to FAA guidelines.
Training and Licensing
Yes, if you are a commercial pilot, you must undergo specific training and test to the demanding FAA standards.
If you fly for recreational purposes, you don’t need any special training or have to meet any special requirements other than being equipped with lighting that the FAA states, “lets you know your location and orientation at all times.”
That said, the FAA recommends that recreational travelers also take the Recreational UAS Safety Test to familiarize themselves with some safety basics, and then carry the appropriate certificate with them when out and about with their drone.
(Image credit: Getty)
For commercial pilots, current guidelines state that they need an updated Part 107 Certification, either first obtained by passing an initial knowledge test and then a night flight training module of the renewal exam. Or, if you have already earned your Part 107 certification, you must complete the new recurring training and exam through the FAAST website.
In addition to the training certification, you will also need an airspace clearance to fly in controlled airspace of less than 400 feet. For now, this means obtaining two authorizations from LAANC (Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability): one for the day and a national one that extends daytime use to night operations.
If you are flying above the roof of the UAS facility maps, you will need to go to the FAA DroneZone to obtain clearance.
Best practices for flying a drone at night
The above outlines what you need to do to legally fly a drone at night, but there are some safety basics and common sense tips that you should also follow.
- Mark your drone abroad with the registration number and carry a registration voucher
- Plan your flight pattern – be sure to check your flying zone during the day so you can better understand the area and help you navigate at night
- While your drone needs onboard anti-collision lighting, it wouldn’t hurt if you also used additional lighting, such as a flashlight, to help you set up.
- Make sure you stay within the authorization limits; As mentioned, you cannot exceed the limit of the LAANC certification, so it is best to find out what is within your limitations
- Keep your drone within line of sight – This will be more difficult at night and it might help if you have another visual observer physically positioned next to you to keep your eyes on the sky.
- Be aware of your surroundings and your limitations when operating at night. Obviously, it is different to the day and requires more vigilance and adjustment for a narrower vision.
- It goes without saying, but it is very important that you always, always operate your drone safely.
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