The first Section 333 Exemption permitting UAS operations at night has been granted. Industrial Skyworks and Aeryon went through a rigorous 17-month process to get the authority to operate the Skyranger after sunset. The resulting 24-page grant of exemption has an analysis of the risks and what the FAA thinks is necessary to mitigate them.
It is important to note that, while this exemption permits night operations, it does not permit beyond visual line of sight flight. As a result, the pilot must be able to see the aircraft at all times with his naked eye.
With regard to aircraft lighting, the FAA agreed that the traditional red/green position lights did not make sense because the Aeryon Skyranger is a symmetrical quadcopter, and there is no consistent forward and aft position on the aircraft. The FAA did, however, require an anti-collision light on the UAS which is visible at 5,000 feet pursuant to 14 CFR 91.209(b). Because the Skyranger has such a light, the FAA found it met this requirement.
The FAA also did not permit the UAS to be operated in an open area at night. The FAA considered the fact that Industrial Skyworks only intends to use the UAS for building inspection at night, and the fact that the aircraft will always be no more than 100 feet from the structure, as providing a necessary means of ensuring that there is adequate separation of the UAS from manned aircraft. The close proximity to the building also gives the operator a reference point to aid him in determining the exact location of the UAS.
While we are assured that Part 107 is coming soon, this exemption will remain very important because Part 107, as proposed, does not permit night operations. As a result, for the foreseeable future, anyone wanting to conduct night operations will either have to receive a similar exemption and be willing to abide by these restrictions, or propose an alternative procedure and convince the FAA that it
Great insights into this headline-making exemption by Mark McKinnon at Dentons than previously reported on these pages. What is fascinating is the attention to detail and the way each issue (no doubt there were more) was systematically addressed in the 24-page grant of exemption. I think it really puts some credibility into Michael Huerta’s recent comments about the FAA’s willingness to cooperate – this took some work by all involved.
The lighting decision is likely to apply to any multicopter. The part about keeping the bird tucked up close to the building as a kind of barrier and visual reference for the pilot, will limit other proposed uses for the time being. In other words, night will not be the new normal for some time to come.