FAA Approves First Section 333 Exemption for Nighttime Drone Operation

In a major policy shift, the Federal Aviation Administration issued the first Section 333 exemption permitting the commercial operation of UAS during night.  On April 18, 2016, the FAA issued exemption No. 16341, (http://1.usa.gov/1rHRMie) permits Industrial Skyworks, Inc. to perform commercial UAS operations during the night for building and roof inspection.

FAA had long maintained that night-time commercial operations of UAS presented safety concerns.  Although Exemption 16341 does allow for night-time operations, the FAA expressed its concern that “operations at night to pose a higher safety risk because the reduced visibility makes it more difficult for the remote pilot to visually locate the UA and, therefore, determine the relative separation with other aircraft in the NAS in order to avoid a collision.”  The FAA concluded, however, that if the drone carries equipment onboard that “identif[ies]y the precise location, attitude, speed, and heading of the small unmanned aircraft” and uses the UAS at night for close inspection of roofs and walls, the safety concerns are mitigated. Moreover, the FAA pointed out that the airspace and ground below tends to be less populated at night, may have precipitated this policy shift.

This exemption is not a blanket rule that now allows commercial use of UAS at night, but is a carefully crafted exemption based on the operational requirements and restrictions proposed by the operator and approved by the FAA. Companies seeking permission for similar nighttime commercial operations should review their operational requirements and careful consider what restrictions they would accept in order to operate a commercial drone at night. Legal advice from an lawyer experienced with dealing with the FAA would be advisable.

Industrial Skyworks, Inc. Petition: http://bit.ly/1NrG5pS

Petition Amendment: http://bit.ly/23KqnYO

FAA Request for Additional Information: http://bit.ly/1s127FM

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