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Night Moves: FAA Makes Front Page News With Drone Exemption

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On April 18, 2016, the FAA approved, for the first time ever, nighttime operation of a small unmanned aircraft system (UAS or “drone") when used for commercial activity.  The FAA permitted Industrial Skyworks, Inc. to use drones to inspect buildings at night.

In order to get the exemption, the FAA required the following of Industrial Skyworks:

  • The pilot in command had to possess a commercial or private pilot certification that allowed night operations;
  • The pilot needed a medical certificate per 14 C.F.R. part 67; and
  • The drone had to remain in the pilot’s and visual observer’s line of sight at all times.

Industrial Skyworks bolstered its case by taking these steps to ensure the drone’s safe operation at night. 

  • It would be launched from an illuminated landing and take-off area and equipped to continually alert the pilot of its location and altitude.  
  • It possessed anti-collision lights visible from 5,000 feet. 
  • The site of the preprogrammed flight was limited in size, and the area was restricted to authorized personnel.  
  • The pilots completed a training program that included nighttime operating skills and experience. 
  • The company created a comprehensive security plan, including a provision that the pilot in command and visual observer would arrive at the work site 30 minutes prior to flight to ensure their eyes adjusted to the darkness.

Undoubtedly, this ruling will prompt other businesses to seek approval from the FAA for nighttime drone operations.  If you have any questions about the commercial use of drones, please call or email Jeff Phillips.

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