FAA Gives First Approval For Commercial Drone Flights At Night

Image courtesy of cag2012

The news that the Federal Aviation Administration has granted approval for the first flights of small commercial drones at night might not seem like a big deal to the average person, but the move also shows how U.S. regulators are now speeding up efforts to authorize expanded uses of the devices.

The FAA’s approval of Industrial Skyworks Inc., which wants to use drones at night to inspect buildings and roofs, could set a precedent for the industry, however, and shows that the FAA is either getting rid of or revising earlier operating restrictions for drones as part of an overall policy shift in the agency, as The Wall Street Journal notes.

Previously, agency officials said that no drones would be allowed to operate after sunset, not even small model drones, not even a little bit, until further tests were completed and formal rules established.

The flights still have to be conducted within sight of the operator on the ground, among a slew of other requirements, including special anti-collision lights on the drones, the person controlling the drone has to have a traditional pilot’s license with the required medical certificate as well as training in night flights, and Skyworks promised to stop or land flights immediately if there’s a technical issue or if any unauthorized vehicles or people bumble into the area, among other things.

The final rules regarding widespread use of small commercial drones — covering anything from airborne photography, to farming, as well as inspections of cell towers and power lines — are still on the horizon. As it stands now, thousands of commercial drone operators have been flying under individual exemptions issued by the FAA.

But the industry wants a new system with more flexible rules, and has been pushing the FAA to speed things up. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta told a drone-industry conference on Wednesday that the agency is trying to become quicker on its feet when it comes to traditional safety practices.

“We’re growing and learning all the time,” Huerta said. “Clearly there is a middle road, where safety and innovation coexist on relatively equal” footing, “and we feel like we’re hitting a sweet spot lately.”

FAA Grants Its First Approval for Flights of Commercial Drones at Night [The Wall Street Journal]

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