Someone call the National UFO Reporting Center, I see something strange in the sky!
Working with drones at night, under a Part 107.29 Daylight Waiver, can be challenging. The first huge challenging step is getting the waiver approved in the first place! Trying to anticipate what the FAA is looking for in your narrative of operations request can be frustrating for most operators. There are several key factors, based on their performance standards, that you must address in writing your narrative. Here we will discuss a few of these to better prepare yourself for filing your request.
1. “Applicant must provide a method for the remote pilot to maintain visual line of sight during darkness.”
So how do you describe maintaining VLOS in darkness? This actually ties into standard #5. To legally operate at night, you must be able to modify your sUAS in a manner to maintain VLOS with external lighting. There are many options out there on the market, however, you must describe in your narrative which one you will use and why you will use it. You will also want to document and use a VO for all night operations.
2. “Applicant must 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.”
This standard is easy to address. Make sure you document in the narrative that a minimum of one visual operator will be used always during night operations. Furthermore, address that all-night flight, unless involved in emergency response aspects, will be visually scouted in daylight with a minimal AGL hard deck established prior to operations. If you’re doing emergency response at night, you will more than likely be utilizing thermal imagery technology, if so, describe how that technology will assist in sense and avoid measures.
3. “Applicant must 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 (sUA).”
Describe in detail the flight software you utilize during your operations that give you these indicators for safe operation. Also, describe what safety procedures you have in place to mitigate any issues that may arise from software related flight complications.
4. “Applicant must assure all required persons participating in the sUA operation have the knowledge to recognize and overcome visual illusions caused by darkness and understand physiological conditions which may degrade night vision.”
There are now several online programs that address this training that is available at cost, and sometimes for free to receive this training. The other option is to address that all involved participants shall be trained to exceed the FAA-H-8083-25B Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge Chapters 2 & 17 referencing crew resource management, risk mitigation, and decision making, and night physiological awareness affects. However, you decide to handle this training requirement, just document in the narrative how you plan to meet this standard. Make sure to address key objectives in which the training covers that exceed the standard as well. I also recommend documenting initial and recurrent training standards as part of your standard operating procedures for night flight currency. This is something manned flight requires and will assist in your effort to get approved. Besides, who doesn’t like to have a reason to fly around at night for fun and training!
5. “Applicant must provide a method to increase the conspicuity of the sUAS to be seen at a distance of 3 statute miles unless a system is in place that can avoid all non-participating aircraft.”
The final question is easy if you documented #1 very well. Just make sure to include whatever you are using so that they can reference as being adequate for compliance and safety.
Will all of this guarantee you a night waiver approval? It’s hard to say, it really comes down to how effectively you can describe how you will meet the performance-based standards in a safe, risk mitigating way of operations. We have successfully had our Daylight Operations Waiver since October 2016 and recently amended it for multiple drone operations by one RPIC up to 200 drones simultaneously for our new The Drone Light Show Division.
The FAA is truly trying to assist operators in succeeding in the commercial space, however, operational narratives must be very descriptive and give the evaluator the sense of safe operations and overall aeronautical knowledge understanding to be successful.
Fly safe and we look forward to the UFO reports from your waiver approvals! (Yes, a few of our operations have made the list ?)
– Matt Quinn