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 Small Unmanned Aircraft Regulations, also know as the Part 107 rules. If you want to fly over people, beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS), above 400 feet, or at night, then you have 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” in this resource, 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, and in fact you are probably the best person for the job. After all, this is your mission, your drone, and your livelihood.
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.
On the other hand, you might want to fly at night simply because you have some incredibly powerful lights you’d like to show off…
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 check boxes).
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 (BVLOS).
So if you want permission to fly over people from 3-4pm on a specific day, or if you’d like to do one single BVLOS flight for an 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 controlled airspace, or for drone pilots, Class B, C, D, or lateral E-at-surface.
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.
Want to learn more about the airspace authorization process? Check out our in-depth resource on airspace authorization here.
When does “night” begin, and what kinds of lights should I use?
Part 107 prohibits the operation of an 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.
We often get asked what kinds of lights satisfy the FAA’s requirements for visibility.
Below are some of the lights our students have purchased. We’ll do our best to keep this list up-to-date as we learn about new options:
The FAA’s five safety guidelines for night waiver applicants
The FAA has a document with safety guidelines for all waiver applications, which includes a list of five specific guidelines for 107.29 waivers.
Below are the five 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 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 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 straight forward. 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 here. 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.
Make sure to read the instructions 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.
If you’d like to take a deep dive into the reasons why people get their waivers rejected, check out this in-depth article from Drone360 Magazine, where they reviewed 1,656 waiver denials and reported back on the commonalities they saw between them.
So how should you fill out the form?
The Responsible Person:
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.
This is straight forward. Just enter yourself, or the pilot who will be flying the mission.
Waiver safety explanation:
The next section of the form has an open form field asking for your waiver safety explanation. Select the night waiver 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.)
Keep in mind that this is your only shot. 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 what the FAA’s instructions say you should provide when filling out the Waiver Safety Explanation:
- A complete description of the proposed operation and justification that establishes that the operation can safely be conducted.
- Identify potential hazards and risks.
- Review the Waiver Safety Explanation Guidelines for each regulation selected and describe, to the greatest extent possible, how you propose to mitigate risks associated with the hazards utilizing operating limitations, technology, training, equipment, personnel, sterile areas, etc. NOTE: The FAA will deny waiver requests submitted without hazard identification and risk mitigation strategies.
Here is the answer one of our students provided for a successful night waiver application:
______________ is requesting a one time waiver for a one-time one-night operation for purposes of a demonstration. In the NPRM, the FAA acknowledged a willingness to consider “any reasonable mitigation which would ensure that an equivalent level of safety is maintained while operating in low-light areas.” While ______________ acknowledges and shares the FAA’s concerns regarding low-light operations, ______________ believes that the operating conditions set forth here constitute reasonable mitigation that would provide an equivalent level of safety achieved during daylight operations. ______________’s operation will include strict controls to ensure that the sUAS will be seen at all times and the operator will be able to avoid other airspace users. The operating area will consist of a barricaded area (50 feet by 50 feet), with take-off, landing, and transit areas within visual line-of-sight (“VLOS”) of the PIC and operator. This area will be illuminated. Both the PIC and VO shall operate with ground lighting at their backs to permit night vision adjustment. As discussed further below, ______________ ‘s nighttime sUAS – the DJI Inspire 1 Pro – must also be operated with lights at all times. These lights are visible up to distances of 5,000 feet, well beyond the distance from which the operator will be controlling the sUAS. Strobe lights to the front and rear of the aircraft will be visible beyond 5,000 feet. Therefore, the operator will be able to maintain sight of the lit sUAS in an illuminated, limited footprint, controlled-access operating area. Concurrently, ______________’s nighttime operations will also require a visual observer (“VO”) to monitor the sUAS airspace and surrounding airspace to assist the operator with avoiding other airspace users. The VO will not only be able to monitor other aircraft in the area by identifying their required lighting, but audibly monitor the airspace during a time with reduced ambient noise. The VO will also be able to verbally communication [sic] with the operator, providing immediate warnings of other airspace users that requires [sic] avoidance action by the sUAS operator. The sUAS will also be operating below 200 feet above ground level (“AGL”), lower than the minimum altitude for other airspace users with a 300 foot buffer. The ability of manned aircraft to “see-and-avoid” sUAS will rarely be required if the manned aircraft is appropriately flying above the required 500 feet AGL. ______________’s nighttime sUAS – the DJI Inspire 1 Pro – is equipped and will operate with lighting for the identification of the sUAS’ location. In addition, airspace users will have knowledge of ______________’s night time operations and limited operating footprint through ______________’s submitted NOTAM. To avoid posing a risk to persons on the ground at night time, ______________ will only operate the DJI Inspire 1 Pro in a controlled and limited footprint with controlled access and barriers/protection for nonparticipating persons. The operating area will be illuminated so that the operator and VO can see any persons on the ground. If there is an incursion, the flight must terminate immediately with the operator able to determine that the sUAS can land safely. 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.
When and where do you want to fly:
When: Try to make this window of time as specific, and ideally as small, as possible. To give you a concrete example, the student who submitted a successful night waiver request, whose answer we included above, input 19:00 – 20:00 for his window of time.
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.
Small UAS Details and other waivers / authorizations:
This is straight forward. 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.
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 30 days, 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.
In fact, if you run a search of all 1,268 Part 107 waivers listed (as of writing this article), 1,116 have been for 107.29 waivers. That’s 88% of all waivers, which means 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. For some time now FAA Administrator Michael Huerta has been talking about the FAA’s desire to speed up the approval process:
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.
– FAA Administrator 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.
Best of luck out there, and please do let us know if you’re night waiver gets approved. We’d love to hear your story!