How to Fly Your Drone at Night Legally: Part 107 Night Waiver
By definition, the actual name of this type of FAA 107 waiver is a Daylight Operation waiver, since technically, when you ask permission to fly at night, you’re asking to have the Part 107 rule that requires sUAS pilots to fly only during daylight hours temporarily waived.
Interested in obtaining a Part 107 night waiver to fly your drone at night legally?
In this article, we’ll cover the specific steps required to obtain a Part 107 waiver for flying your drone at night.
Part 107 waivers allow you to fly in ways otherwise prohibited by the FAA’s (sUAS) Small Unmanned Aircraft Regulations, also known as the Part 107 rules. If you want to fly over people, beyond the visual line of sight, above 400 feet, or at night, then you need to obtain a Part 107 waiver.
The specific section of Part 107 that covers daylight operations is 107.29. Although we’ll generally refer to a 107.29 waiver as a “night waiver”, the actual name of the waiver is a Daylight Operation waiver, since technically, when you ask permission to fly at night, you’re asking to have the Part 107 rule that requires sUAS pilots to fly only during daylight hours temporarily waived.
Before we go any further, we want to address the question of whether or not you can go through this process on your own.
While it’s true that you could hire a lawyer to fill out your Part 107 waiver application for you, the answer is YES you can absolutely do this on your own, however, you may not be the best person for the job. After all, your mission is to fly your drone and let your business prosper.
We’ve organized this resource into sections, so you can jump around to find the information you most need, or you can read it straight through to get a full overview of how to go about getting a Part 107 waiver to fly your sUAS at night.
- Use cases—why fly a drone at night?
- Part 107 waivers vs. airspace authorizations / airspace waivers
- When does “night” begin, and what kinds of lights should I use?
- The FAA’s five safety guidelines for night waiver applicants
- What’s the proper way to request a night waiver?
- What if I need a Part 107 waiver AND airspace authorization?
- How long do I need to wait for approval?
- What does getting a Part 107 waiver to fly at night look like?
- What’s next for Part 107 waivers?
There are many reasons you might want to fly a drone at night. Below are some general categories, with specific use cases for different scenarios that might call for night flying.
Photography / Cinematography
From capturing a wedding to shooting a movie to getting a great shot of a piece of property at dusk for real estate purposes, to filming a concert, play, or some other live event, there are dozens of reasons related to aerial photography and cinematography that you might want to fly at night.
On the other hand, you may want to fly at night because you feel like filming some incredible skiing:
Surveilling a facility at night, or a prison, or some other large building, not to mention a remote area where expensive construction or other equipment is being kept—there are multiple security-related scenarios that might call for flying a drone at night.
Firefighters might need to use a drone to survey a fire at night in order to look for smoldering hot spots or to fly over a forest fire to understand its contours. Police departments might also want to use drones for surveillance at night when some criminals might be encouraged in their illegal activities by the cover of darkness.
Inspections and Surveying
LiDAR surveys can be done at night, and inspections using aerial thermography to look for places where a structure is leaking heat and could be improved can also be conducted at night.
Poachers often do their work at night, and some animals are only awake at night, so there are cases where it might be necessary to fly a drone in the dark either for a study or to protect an endangered species from those that might want to harm it.
Part 107 Waivers vs. Airspace Authorizations/Airspace Waivers
The terms “Part 107 waiver” and “airspace authorization” are often used in the same sentence, and it can seem like they are the exact same thing (the confusion is understandable, in part because until recently the FAA form to apply for them was the exact same form with two different checkboxes).
In fact, before the form was split people got their application for one or the other rejected because they don’t properly understand which was which.
So what’s the difference?
Part 107 Waivers
Applying for a Part 107 waiver means that you would like to get permission to be exempt from existing Part 107 prohibitions and regulations, like not being allowed to fly at night, or not being allowed to operate beyond visual line-of-sight.
So if you want permission to fly over people, or if you’d like to do a BVLOS flight for a railroad inspection, or if you’d like to fly at night so you can do an amazing drone light show as a backdrop to Lady Gaga rocking down the house (ok, so those drones weren’t flying live, but you get the idea), you can apply for a waiver that will temporarily exempt you from the Part 107 requirements.
If you’re curious, you can see the complete list of Part 107 regulations subject to waiver here.
Airspace Authorizations and Airspace Waivers
On the other hand, requesting airspace authorization or an airspace waiver means that you are asking to operate/fly in Class B, C, D, or lateral E-at-surface controlled airspace.
According to FAA.gov:
- “An airspace authorization is short-term (up to 6 months) and grants access to a more limited operating area.
- An airspace waiver is longer term (6 months to 2 years) and grants access to a bigger operating area.”
It’s worth noting that most of the requests to fly in controlled airspace that we hear about have to do with airspace authorizations, not airspace waivers.
When does “night” begin, and what kinds of lights should I use?
Part 107 prohibits the operation of a sUAS at night, which is defined as the time between the end of evening civil twilight and the beginning of morning civil twilight, as published in The Air Almanac, converted to local time.
In the continental United States (CONUS), evening civil twilight is the period of sunset until 30 minutes after sunset and morning civil twilight is the period of 30 minutes prior to sunrise until sunrise. In Alaska, the definition of civil twilight differs and is described in The Air Almanac.
The Air Almanac provides tables which are used to determine sunrise and sunset at various latitudes. These tables can be downloaded from the Naval Observatory at http://aa.usno.navy.mil/publications/docs/aira.php.
If you’re flying in that 30-minute civil twilight period, your aircraft must be equipped with special anti-collision lights that are capable of being visible for at least 3 miles in all directions.
So to recap, the Part 107 rules state that you can only fly your drone during the day. And that “daylight” is from 30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset. And that if you’re flying during that 30-minute civil twilight period you need to have lights that are visible for at least 3 miles.
The FAA’s 5 safety guidelines for night waiver applicants
The FAA has a document with safety guidelines for all waiver applications, which includes a list of 5 specific guidelines for 107.29 waivers.
Below are the 5 guidelines, with notes on how to approach addressing each one.
When it comes to filling out the Part 107 waiver form, information concerning all five of these guidelines should be included in the Waiver Safety Explanation free form field section of your application (see the section immediately following this one for a step-by-step on how to fill out the form).
1. Provide a method for the remote pilot to maintain visual line of sight during darkness.
Make explicitly clear how you will maintain a Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) with your drone. Since it will be dark, be sure to include details about the lights you plan to use, and the specific conditions you’ll be flying in. Will you have a Visual Observer (VO), or even two VOs? Will the area where you’ll be flying also have lighting, in addition to the lights on your sUAS? The more detail you can provide, the better.
2. Provide a method for the remote pilot to see and avoid other aircraft, people on the ground, and ground-based structures and obstacles during darkness.
One thing that can help here is to make your area of operation relatively small and controlled. As you’ll see in the example answer below for the Waiver Safety Explanation from one of our students, he addresses this concern by stating that “the operating area is a secure public safety training facility, with an 8-foot fence surrounding the south border and 6-foot chain link fence on the other three sides; access is only by a gate with secure numeric code.”
Of course, we can’t all fly missions within fenced-in areas protected by numerically coded locks.
But make sure to be extremely thoughtful when describing safety protocol for avoiding collisions. Will you have a VO assisting, to look out for hazards in the sky and on the ground? What will you do in an emergency? Again, attention to detail is the name of the game.
3. Provide a method by which the remote pilot will be able to continuously know and determine the position, altitude, attitude, and movement of their small unmanned aircraft.
Anticipate safety questions and answer them here. Given that technology can fail, what will you do if you lose connection with your drone?
Having one or more VOs is also a good way to address this guideline. If you go that route, make sure to describe how you’ll communicate with that person in detail—via radio, or by standing near enough that you can speak directly to him or her. The more specific you can get, the better.
4. Provide a method to assure all required persons participating in the small unmanned aircraft operation have the knowledge to recognize and overcome visual illusions caused by darkness and understand physiological conditions which may degrade night vision.
The phrase “night illusions” refers to the tricks your eyes can play on you at night, which can cause confusion during night flights. Make sure to address how you will deal with night illusions, including remedies such as flying for shorter periods of time, using a window of time to allow your eyes to adjust after turning the lights on your drone, and other methods you plan to use to deal with night illusions.
While researching night illusions, we found this list of factors regarding night flight and night illusions in Women And Drones useful (the list originally appeared in the Code of Federal Regulations chapter 10 Airplane Flying Handbook, Regulations, and Policies):
- Autokinesis: Phantom motion; protracted staring may cause it to appear that an object is moving contrary to reality.
- Fascination (Fixation): Pilots ignore orientation cues and fix their attention on a goal or an object.
- Reversible perspective illusion: Inability to determine if an object is moving towards you or away from you.
- Size-distance illusion: Dimly lit objects appear to be further away and brightly lit objects appear closer.
- Flicker Vertigo: Flashing lights may cause nausea or disorientation.
5. Provide a method to increase the conspicuity of the small unmanned aircraft to be seen at a distance of at least 3 statute miles unless a system is in place that can avoid all non-participating aircraft.
This one is pretty straightforward. The thing to call out here is that not all lights are created equal. We’ve heard of several scenarios where pilots simply assume their lights are strong enough to be seen for 3 statute miles, when in fact they are not.
Make sure to include specific information on the lights you plan to use during your night flight—see the end of the previous section, “When does “night” begin, and what kinds of lights should I use?” for a list of recommended lights that meet FAA requirements for night flying.
What’s the proper way to request a night waiver?
According to the FAA, you should fill out their online Part 107 waiver form over at their FAADroneZone website, which you’ll have to register for. It’s the same place you register your drone commercially, apply for airspace authorizations, and submit incident reports if needed. After submitting the form, the FAA “…will strive to review and issue decisions on waiver and authorization requests within 90 days.”
Waivers can take a very long time to be processed, so you should plan on waiting at least 90 days to hear back. That said, we’ve seen our students get their requests granted in as soon as 3-4 weeks.
Make sure to read the Instructions and the Waiver Safety Explanation Guidelines and to fill out the form correctly, or you either won’t hear back from the FAA or will be denied a request and will have to start over.
So how should you fill out the form?
First, if you haven’t already set up an account with FAADroneZone, make sure to go ahead and do that. This is the same account you’d be using for your recreational or commercial sUAS registration.
Then, once you’re logged in, click through to your Part 107 Dashboard, navigate to the Part 107 Waivers & Authorizations section, and click the button that says, Create Part 107 Waiver/Authorization.
Make sure to select the correct bullet point indicating you’d like to start an Operational Waiver application.
You’ll notice that there are four parts to the application.
You need a primary title for your intended operation. Something like, Daylight Operations Waiver for Night Filmography and Inspection Work
This will usually just be you, but it doesn’t have to be. The Responsible Person is actually not required to hold a Remote Pilot Certificate, and can be the representative of an organization.
The Responsible Person you list is accountable for a list of responsibilities, which include maintaining records demonstrating compliance with FAA requirements; being accessible by the ATC; and maintaining a list of pilots and make / model of all aircraft involved in the operation. See the full list of responsibilities on pages 1 and 2 of this FAA Waiver Application Instructions document.
Waiver safety explanation:
The next section of the form has an open form field asking for your waiver safety explanation. Select the Daylight Operation box, then make sure to address all five of the waiver safety explanation guidelines for a 107.29 Daylight operation waiver. (See the previous section for the list of these five guidelines, and our advice on how to address each one.)
Make sure your answer is thorough, including every detail possible to show that you have considered all contingencies, and make sure to completely address each of the five guidelines.
Here is the answer one of our students provided for a successful night waiver application:
A visual observer will be used at all times.
For short distances, primary communication will be via voice. If longer distances are necessary for an operation, a network of walkie-talkies will be used. If either of these methods are disrupted or ineffective, operations will be suspended until communications can be restored.
Visual scanning and audio cues will be the primary methods for detecting airborne and terrestrial intruders to the area of operations. PIC and VO(s) will be trained on proper scanning procedures, visual illusions and employ these skills to remain vigilant to any non-participating aerial vehicles and people.
All operations will be conducted in Class G airspace unless a separate airspace Certificate of Waiver or Authorization specifically stating that night operations may be conducted in controlled airspace is received from the FAA, in accordance with § 107.41.
The takeoff and landing area will be illuminated and free & clear of obstructions for a 25′ radius and will identified with flags, markers, or safety cones to prevent non-participating personnel from entering the TO/LDG Zone. If an intruder is detected approaching our operating area operations will be suspended and the sUAS will immediately be put in a safe position to avoid any conflict with the intruder.
The Remote Pilot in Command (Remote PIC) will be able to see the aircraft in the dark, at the maximum planned flight distance from the Remote PIC and/or Visual Observer (VO) through the installation of an anti-collision light that is visible for 3 statute miles or more. The Remote PIC may reduce the intensity of the anti-collision lighting if he or she determines that, because of operating conditions, it would be in the interest of safety to do so. In addition to this, VOs will be based in locations in our operating area to best detect any airborne or terrestrial intruders.
The Remote PIC will able to tell which direction the aircraft is pointing or flying in the dark because the operator will receive onboard telemetry data to maintain the exact position, altitude, attitude, and movement of the aircraft.
In addition to the telemetry data the visual observer will report back to the pilot to verify flight path, location, and altitude.
In the event that the Remote PIC and/or VO they lose sight of the aircraft in the dark the operation will be terminated and the aircraft will either land immediately or return to home using a predetermined path and altitude that ensures safe clearance above obstacles.
In order for the Remote PIC and/or VO to locate other persons, aircraft, obstacles, and structures in the dark, the planned area of operation, flight paths, and return to home paths, will be either illuminated or evaluated for hazards and a minimum safe altitude will be used. A return to home altitude will be programmed to ensure safe clearance above obstacles and hazards should a loss-of-link occur.
If other persons/aircraft are located during flight, the operation will terminate and aircraft will yield the right of way, landing immediately or returning to home using a predetermined path and altitude that ensures safe clearance above obstacles.
The pilot will be prohibited from engaging in any other activity, such as looking at charts, during nighttime small unmanned aircraft operations. The operator’s will be eyes on the aircraft the entire time.
The Remote PIC will continuously know their aircraft’s current real-time (1)geographic location, (2) altitude above the ground, (3) attitude(orientation, deck angle, pitch, bank), and (4) direction of flight by receiving onboard telemetry data. In addition, to the telemetry data, the visual observer will report back to the pilot to verify flight path, location, and altitude.
Prior to conducting operations that are the subject of this Waiver, the Remote PIC and VO will be trained to recognize and overcome visual illusions caused by darkness, and understand physiological conditions which may degrade night vision.
Chapter 13 of the Helicopter Flying Handbook, “Night Operations” and FAA Aeronautical Information Manual, Chapter 8 “Medical Facts for Pilots” will be our primary source for knowledge about night operational risk. This information will be disseminated electronically to all team members participating in our operation for their studies and reference. A hard copy will be available on site for further review, if required.
The Responsible Person will conduct a quiz, correctable to 100%, of each participating team member before any operation and training and quiz documentation will be maintained on site.
Topics will include:
Autokinesis: Phantom motion; protracted staring may cause it to appear that an object is moving contrary to reality;
Fascination (Fixation): Pilots ignore orientation cues and fix their attention on a goal or an object;
Reversible perspective illusion: Inability to determine if an object is moving towards you or away from you;
Size-distance illusion: Dimly lit objects appear to be further away and brightly lit objects appear closer and ;
Flicker Vertigo: Flashing lights may cause nausea or disorientation.
The Responsible Person will document such initial training and require annual recurrent training. All training will be documented in a training file maintained by the Responsible Person.
The Responsible Person listed on the Waiver will be responsible to the FAA for the safe conduct of the operations.
The Responsible Person will document the following and have such documentation available for inspection.
Prior to conducting operations that are the subject of this Waiver, the responsible person will ensure the Remote PIC, manipulators of the controls, and VO are informed on the terms and provisions of this Waiver and the strict observance of the terms and provisions of the Waiver.
The Responsible Person will ensure the Remote PIC, manipulators of the controls, and VO are informed and familiar with part 107 regulations not waived.
This Waiver will not be combined with any other waiver(s), authorizations(s), or exemption(s) without specific authorization from the FAA.
A copy of any Waiver will be available during sUAS operations that are the subject of this Waiver.
The Responsible Person will maintain a current list of pilots by name and Remote Pilot Certificate number used in the Waiver holder’s operations. This list will be presented for inspection upon request from the Administrator or an authorized representative.
The Responsible Person will maintain a current list of small unmanned aircraft (sUA) by registration number(s) used in the Waiver holder’s operations. This list will be presented for inspection upon request from the Administrator or an authorized representative.
When and where do you want to fly:
When: You can make this window of time as specific as possible, but the FAA has been granting waivers through 6/18/2022. So even if you’re just looking for approval for a few weeks, you’ll likely be given clearance through 6/18/2022.
Where: The more specific you can be here, the better.
Here is the information the FAA guidelines suggest you include:
- Provide a detailed description of the proposed geographic area of operations.
- Describe boundaries using street address, easily identifiable landmarks, and/or latitude and longitude.
- Include distance and direction from the nearest public airport.
- Specify the location, region, and/or whether you seek to operate nation-wide.
sUAS Details and other waivers / authorizations:
This is straightforward. Input your information, and hit submit!
The FAA guidelines note that you should be prompt in responding to their requests for additional information. If they reach out with questions, make sure to get back right away to avoid extra delays in the processing of your waiver application.
And now that you’ve hit submit, the waiting begins.
What if I need a Part 107 waiver AND airspace authorization?
If you are planning a flight that will require both a Part 107 waiver and airspace authorization—for example, night operations in Class B airspace—the order in which you get each one is important.
“If you intend to use a non-airspace Part 107 waiver in controlled airspace (for example, night operations in Class B airspace), you must obtain your non-airspace waiver prior to requesting an airspace authorization or airspace waiver.”
So if you want to fly a mission that requires both a Part 107 waiver and airspace authorization, you must obtain your Part 107 waiver prior to requesting an airspace authorization or airspace waiver.
Since Part 107 waivers have historically been slow to process, you should prepare yourself for a long wait—especially since you’ll have to use the Part 107 waiver to then submit your airspace authorization request . . . and wait some more (at least 30 more days) while that gets processed.
Prepare for the worst, hope for the best!
Regarding wait times, the official language on the FAA’s website is:
The FAA will strive to review and issue decisions on waiver and authorization requests within 90 days. Processing times will vary based on the complexity of your request.
While we’ve heard of airspace authorization requests being fast tracked more recently and pushed out in about 3-4 weeks, when it comes to a night waiver or any other type of Part 107 waiver, you should plan on a full 90 day wait. Part 107 waivers are notoriously slow to be processed, and they get turned down more often than airspace authorization requests.
That being said, when you look at the list of approved waivers on the FAA website, the vast majority of those that have been approved are for Part 107.29 requests—that is, for flying at night. You have much better odds for getting your night waiver approved than you do for any other type of waiver.
Here’s a great thread on our community forum where both Drone Pilot Ground School students and our wider UAV Coach community share their specific experiences in pursuing waivers and airspace authorization: FAA Airspace Authorization & Waiver Experiences / Notes.
Here’s a real-world example of night waiver paperwork, issued directly from the FAA.
Want more examples? You can view all the night waivers that have ever been granted here on the FAA’s website.
The FAA is fully aware of how frustrated many commercial drone pilots are about the long wait required for Part 107 waiver decisions:
We are taking steps to make it easier and faster when it comes to processing requests for Part 107 authorizations and waivers for those of you who are seeking to capitalize on new business opportunities.
– Former FAA Administrator Michael Huerta
But the reality is that the process probably won’t be made much faster any time soon.
While the release of UAS Facility Maps has helped to fast track airspace authorization requests, and points the way forward for a viable system to automate these requests in the near future, there is not a comparable quick fix for removing the human element in order to fast track waiver requests.
At the moment every single waiver has to be reviewed by a person so that its merits and hazards can be individually judged (note that the time frame the FAA promises for a response depends on “the complexity of your request”).
However, the work currently being done to develop fully functional, scalable Unmanned Traffic Management systems (UTMs) could potentially help to speed up the waiver approval process, especially for night waivers and Beyond Visual Line of Sight waivers.
With strong security measures in place, it could be easier to relax restrictions on these types of flying, and open things up on the regulatory front for new commercial applications and scenarios.
All of this being said, the best thing you can do at the present moment is plan for a minimum 90 day wait.