Fly your drone at night with an FAA waiver!


All right, welcome everyone. Welcome back to our summer webinar series on operational waivers. I’m Kevin Morris, I work for the Federal Aviation Administration, Flight Standards Division, and this week is a special week for our summer webinar series, as we’re doing a two-part episode on Daylight Waivers. So, what we have today is episode one of The Dark Knight. The next one will be this coming Thursday at 1:00 PM ET. So, just a few housekeeping items here as we get started. The audio will be through your computer speakers, so make sure you have your computer speaker volume adjusted appropriately. You’ll notice at the bottom of the screen, you have a question-and-answer pod. That is your direct access to a room full of FAA experts that we have on hand to help you with any and all questions. Related to operational waivers, and if you have some airspace questions, throw those in there as well, because in the mix, we’ve got our Legal Counsel Support Specialists, our Air Traffic Support Specialists, our Waiver Team Support Specialists and Flight Standards Support Specialists. So, in addition to me here working with you today, throughout the webinar, you do have access to a variety of FAA experts, in a number of fields here, related to UAS. And so, we use the Q&A pod down there, at the bottom of the screen, to get your questions submitted directly to those individuals. Remember, we will try to answer all questions during the webinar here today. If we can’t get your question answered, we most certainly will follow up on it, and have it answered and posted to our website, which will be able to see you later on in our webinar. The session is being recorded, and towards the last half of the session, we will do another live Q&A, where you can ask questions directly to me over the webinar platform here, Adobe Connect, and I’ll try to get those answers for you then. So, let’s kind of get right into it today. This is an important series that we’re doing for this week, because Daylight Waivers are our most often requested waiver that we get from the general public. So, what we want to do today? Our goal is to help you understand the process, as it directly relates to Daylight Waivers, and during this educational outreach here today and on Thursday, we’re going to help you understand what we, the FAA, want to hear from you in your waiver application. So, the way we’re gonna do it today, is we’re gonna break down the challenges of operating at night. Why is operating at night different than operating during the day? And we’ll finish with the Waivers Safety Explanation Guidelines Question #1. Part two, which will start on Thursday at 1:00 PM ET, we’ll cover the remaining Waiver Safety Explanation Guideline Questions #2 through #5. So, let’s start here at the core of why we’re doing this. As we all are familiar with, Part 107.29, it specifies Daylight Operation for Part 107 drone flying. It simply states: No person may operate a small unmanned aircraft during night. So, we need to get into a little bit of definitions here to make sure that we’re all speaking the same language, when we’re talking about daylight, night and civil twilight. So, what we define “night” is: As the time between the end of evening civil twilight, until the beginning of morning civil twilight. The rule goes on in 107.29 to also state that: No person may operate a small unmanned aircraft during civil twilight, UNLESS that UAS is equipped with anti-collision lighting, visible for at least three statute miles. So, there we have the rule, the rule permits you, as you all know, to operate your UAS during the day AND It permits you to operate your UAS during periods of civil twilight, if it is appropriately lighted. So, what do we mean by civil twilight? Well, with the exception of Alaska, when we’re talking about civil twilight, what we’re really talking about is, dusk and dawn. And we define that as: The period starting 30 minutes after official sunset, until the period 30 minutes before official sunrise. And again, that’s for the continental United States, with the exception of Alaska. If you happen to be in Alaska, you will need to consult your air almanac for your civil twilight period. So, we know that if we’re going to operate, not during the day, not during civil twilight, that means we’re operating at night, and if we’re going to operate at night, we’re going to need a waiver for 107.29. And of course, in 107.200, as you see on the screen, we provide for a method for you to obtain an operational waiver to operate your UAS at night, with a couple important caveats in there. As you’ve heard me say before, one of the important caveats we have, is when you submit your application for a Daylight Waiver, you need to have a complete description of your proposed operation. And then, you also need to have a safety case or justification that your operation can be safely conducted. Those are two key defining elements. We want you to have in your waiver application. In order to do that, in order to make your safety case, you need to understand the risks of operating your UAS at night. Now, technically speaking We all know that when you fly your drone, the drone is not going to fly any differently at night, than it flies during the day. It’s gonna operate in the exact same manner. You control it in the same way. What changes, is us, as humans, and your operational environment. We, as humans, are not designed to function at night. We’re not nocturnal creatures by nature. So, we are primarily designed as daylight type individuals. So, when we go at night there are some intrinsic issues that we have, as human beings, that complicate the nighttime issue. As well as, the operational environment you’re flying in. So, let’s talk about some of these night considerations. First and foremost, is vision. We are primarily visual creatures, and we do almost everything, in terms of sensory pickup, through our eyes. That is more challenging at night. For example, Daylight. When you want to see something in the daylight, we look directly at it, because that’s where eye balls are designed to pick up images in daylight, direct viewing. At night, that actually works against us. At night, because of the way our eyes are designed, direct viewing of an object is NOT the best way to view it. At night, you want to do what’s called: Off-Center Viewing Looking a little bit to the right, or to the left, to truly pick up that image, because that’s how the eyes are designed. Another key element that you want to consider for nighttime operations is: Adaptation to the dark. We all know, if you’re in a house and it’s bright, and you walk outside to pitch-black night, your vision is really degraded. We don’t see that well. We still have all this residual light in our eyes. It takes a while. In fact, it takes roughly 30 minutes for your eyes to fully adapt to the darkness. So, that’s one issue we have, just as humans, is vision alone. How are we going to tackle that? The other thing, related to our vision, are optical illusions. At night, that blinking light in the distance…. Is it stationary? Is it moving? Is it coming at me? Is it a tower or is it attached to a building or is it another aircraft? Is it a helicopter? It could be another UAS. That’s very difficult to pick out at night, because ALL we’re picking up Visually, is the light. A lot of times, a lot depending on the conditions, you may not even hear the sound of that approaching aircraft. Another issue you might encounter, is what we call: Visual Auto Kinesis, and that applies when we’re looking at a light at night, and it’s stationary, and we’re focused on it, it starts to move. It’s not really moving, but the way our eyes and our brain works is that we tend to pick up this subtle movement of that light. So, that’s something else that we want to be concerned with. So, vision nighttime illusions, temporary blindness, this actually is more of a challenge for you, as a remote pilot, than it is for a crew flying a manned aircraft. Why? Because once a crew in a manned aircraft gets away from the ground, their operating environment remains pretty dark. Cockpit lighting is dark. There’s not much light coming from the stars or even, maybe the moon, but when you’re standing on the ground, you are exposed to a lot of different light intensities. So, when you intend to fly at night, are you considering this in your operation? What if that car coming in, leaves their brights on the entire time? That’s going to degrade your vision. And if you’re really not expecting it, it could be a shock and a surprise, and we don’t like shocks and surprises when we’re operating UAS. The equipment is certainly going to have to change on your UAS to operate at night. We saw back when we looked at the rule 107 dot 29 that, even if we’re flying in periods of civil twilight, we need to have our UAS equipped with lighting visible for at least three statute miles. That same lighting you need to be used, of course, during the night. So, questions you may have and want to ask yourself, in terms of lighting, that you’re putting on your drone: Can it be seen for three miles? Are you using differential colors to help you understand what direction it’s moving? Can you see above and below your UAS?
Can other aircraft see your UAS? Can you control the intensity of the lighting on your UAS, making it brighter for when circumstances dictate, or lessening the intensity if circumstances dictate? Can you use lighting on board your UAS to illuminate obstacles? Obviously, lighting is a big element to nighttime operations with your UAS. So, that is one part you want to consider when you’re looking to operate at night, is the equipment. The other issue you may run into too, is weather. Weather isn’t easily discernible at night, as it is during the day. You can see that storm cloud, if there’s less, even say, if there’s no lightning in it. It’s just a big rain cloud. You can see that coming from a long ways away during the day. At night, you can’t. At night, all of a sudden, that’s not upon you. Same thing with fog. That has a tendency to come in when you’re not expecting it. So, how are you gonna manage changing weather conditions at night, because it’s more of a challenge than during the day? The most obvious one that we probably bump into are Obstacles. We don’t see well at night. I think we’ve established that point. So, how are you going to know where your obstacles are? Where the threats are to your drone operation? And how are you going to mitigate that risk? We’re talking power lines or tree branches, closed lines, things that are almost Impossible to see at night, unless there’s some sort of external illumination on them. So, one of the options you may do is to go to the site that you want to fly that night, in the middle of the day, and make a note. Here’s where my obstacles are. Here’s a power line Here’s a telephone line that runs directly diagonal across my area of operation. I need to mark that. I need to know where that is, because when it gets to be night, you don’t want to discover these things during your operation. You want to know where this stuff is before you go, but because we don’t see well at night, it’s a little bit more difficult to pick up. So, where this all drives us to, is that if we understand the challenges for operating UAS at night, then we can get into the ability to identify the hazards they pose, conduct our risk assessment and provide mitigating strategies, or to reduce the risk that those hazards pose. And where do you start: The Waiver Safety Explanation Guidelines (WSEG). And I know you guys have heard me say this time and time again, but it is probably one of the best documents to help you get started on the right foot. This is the document that’s gonna help you assist, or assist you, in finding hazards. Helping you ask questions that you may not have thought of. It’s your tool to use in your application for an operational waiver. So, with the Waiver Safety Explanation Guidelines or WSEG is going to provide for you, is some questions to help you propose what your operation is going to look like? Where are you going to operate? How high do you want to fly? Those are types of questions that we are going to need to know as the regulatory authority when we’re reviewing your waiver application. What about describing your unmanned aircraft system? Now, if you’ve watched some previous episodes, you may have heard me say, for Daylight Waivers: It’s not necessary to include a lot of description of your actual UAS. But, you may want to include that information in your waiver application. Especially, if your UAS is going to have equipment design software capabilities that you are going to use as an applicant to help mitigate some of those risks that night time flying poses. Again, the Waiver Safety Explanation Guidelines will help you through that process. What about the person operating the UAS, the pilot, the visual observer? What type of information are you going to require of them? Are you gonna require a minimum level experience? Minimum level of training? So many hours of flying at night before they operate underneath that waiver? We need to know that information. So, if your plan is to have certain training or documentation with the training or minimum experience levels, put that in your waiver applications. So, we understand what’s going on and what you’re proposing. What we want you to do, is provide us, to the greatest extent possible: How you’re going to mitigate the risks of flying at night. Now you can do this through: Operating Limitations Geofencing Software Limitations or Visual Observer Positioning The equipment on board your UAS Additional training for folks involved with your operation. You can even use certain technologies. Just keeping in mind, that if proposing a new technology that we are unfamiliar with, we may ask for an evaluation of that technology that you intend to use as part of your risk mitigation strategies. Some people restrict personnel access to the areas that they’re going to operate. All these things are ideas that you want to have going on in your head when you’re making your waiver application, because when you make that waiver application, it has to be yours. We cover that in a previous episode. Don’t copy and paste somebody else’s waiver application, because that’s not yours. It’s not specific to your operation. When you are addressing these questions in the Waiver Safety Explanation Guidelines, here are our primary concerns. This is what we’re looking for: We want to know how you’re going to ensure that your operation remains safe at all times. You need to provide that information to us. Furthermore, if circumstances arise, seen or unseen circumstances, We want to know: How are you going to handle those? What happens if you temporarily lose sight? What happens if you have temporary blindness from a car’s high-beams? We need to know what your plan of action is if that were to happen. These are our primary concerns. In our Waiver Safety Explanation Guidelines. So, it’s important to remember, when you’re using the WSEG to complete your waiver application process, the list of questions that we’re providing you, are meant to get you started on the right path for a risk assessment, and they may not be all-inclusive for your operation. Simply because, you answer the Waiver Safety Explanation Guideline Questions, doesn’t mean that that’s the end of the road, particularly for individual operations. Usually, there’s more specific things that you are doing. The type of training you’re doing or the type of equipment that you’re using. That will require further explanation to the FAA in your waiver application. Now, when we get into the Waiver Safety Explanation Guidelines, it’s really broken down for Daylight Waivers into five key topics, and what you see on the screen there, we’re talking about visual line of sight. Seeing, avoiding people, aircraft obstacles. Continuously knowing where that UAS is. The latitude. The altitude. Those types of things. Making sure that people who are helping you with your operation, whether that’s a visual observer or another remote pilot, understand the risks of operating at night. And then finally, we want to make sure that your UAS is highly visible during nighttime operations. So, those are the five key elements, and they’re broken down in the Waiver Safety Explanation Guidelines into five topics, with subset questions. We’re going to tackle Waiver Safety Explanation Guidelines Question #1 right now. So, we’re talking visual line of sight. Topic one on the Waiver Safety Explanation Guidelines says: We want to know how the remote pilot in command is going to maintain visual line of sight during darkness. This is key because simply the fact that you’re operating under a Daylight Waiver 107.29, does not mean that 107.31, which is the requirement to maintain visual line of sight goes away. You need to maintain visual line of sight throughout the entire operation. So, in terms of dealing with this, one of the most obvious answers, is you put lights on there. Anti-corrosion lights or strobes or some other sort of lighting configuration that helps you see your UAS. The question a lot of times that we have is: Are you seeing the lights or are you seeing the aircraft? Remember, 107.31 requires you to maintain visual line of sight of the aircraft at all times. So, if you put a small little light on your drone, and you fly it four miles away, you might be able to see that light still, maybe… But you certainly aren’t seeing the aircraft. Remember, visual line of sight. What about using additional visual observers, more than just one or two? Maybe three or maybe four? Depending on how large your operational area is, and in terms of maintaining visual line of sight, we need to know what procedures you have, as either the remote pilot command or the visual observer are going to have, if you lose sight of your drone at night. Obviously, none of us want to do that. That can be a very dangerous thing, but you need to know where you’re flying, what you’re flying over what obstacles are beneath you. A lot of the answers that we get for this Waiver Safety Explanation Guideline Question, are the applicants telling us: I’m gonna return to home. I’m gonna push the return to home button on my UAS. If I ever lose sight of it, I know exactly, it’s gonna come straight back to me. Not a problem. Here is the problem Using returned to home is a good starting point in mitigating the risk if you ever lose sight of a UAS, but it can potentially increase your risks. And unfortunately, we just saw an example of that back in September of 2017, where we had a DJI Phantom 4 involved in the mid-air collision with the US Army Black Hawk helicopter. So, this particular flight was being operated during dusk. So, evening civil twilight, and think back to the rule. What does the rule require? It requires it has lights on board the aircraft. Well, the operator was flying this in the New York area and got far enough away approximately 2.5 miles away from the control station, and then lost sight of it. Was not able to see the UAS anymore. Whether it was the city backdrop lighting or just the fact that it was dark, they lost sight of that UAS. So, they hit return to home, because they knew it would come straight back. What you’re seeing on your screen right there, is an NTSB recreation of the flight path of the Black Hawk helicopter in green, and the Phantom 4 in white. So, you can see the Phantom 4 is a pretty straight line. Departed from its control station moves all the way out past Hoffman Island, where the visual line of sight is lost, and it’s returned to home. That’s when the collision happened with the Black Hawk helicopter. The Black Hawk helicopter saw it at the last possible moment and was not able to avoid the Unmanned aircraft, and collided with one of the engine intakes in some of the rotor blades. The operator had no idea that this had happened. They just assumed: I guess it fell into the water. I hit return home, and it never came back. Well, as we know now, and never came back, because it was involved in a mid-air collision. So, return to home, it’s a nice feature, but again, as we just pointed out here, It may not be the best answer for you, if you lose visual line of sight with your UAS at night. So, what are some other things that we can do? Well, let’s talk about some things we can think about here. If you lose visual sight, visual line of sight: What about hovering? What about going into a hover mode until the UAS can be required by you, the remote pilot in command, or the visual observer to start implementing your emergency loss of sight strategy? What about using telemetry data based on your equipment, the data you’re getting back from the UAS the geographic location, the position? Can you use that information to help you reacquire? The entire time you’re looking to reacquire the theme should be safety. You should be doing it in the most expeditious and safe manner possible, because while having procedures, and trust me, we really do want you to have procedures in case you lose visual line-of-sight, that’s important. The key element is that your waiver application, your strategy, your program, does not allow you to lose visual line of sight. That’s what we’re really looking for. What strategies are you going to incorporate that prevents loss of sight with your UAS? And certainly, we want you to have these strategies, again if you do lose sight. So, top three tips to take away today: One, please understand the increased risks present during night operations. As we pointed out, It’s not the same as flying during the day. There are a lot more considerations, a lot more risks, a lot more hazardous tree operation, and therefore, require a lot more assessment, analysis, and mitigation on your part for us to review. Understand also, the technical requirements needed to mitigate those risks. We just talked about return to home. That’s a technical aspect of the drawing, but is it the best one for YOUR operation? Do you have other equipment or software packages that help you mitigate that risk of flying at night more effectively than a return to home? And finally, I think this shows up in just about every one of our top tips Read the Waiver Safety Explanation Guidelines and the Waiver Application Instructions. Those are your two key starting documents for any waiver application. At a bare minimum, we want you answering all the Waiver Safety Explanation Guideline questions. Certainly, that will get you off on the right foot. So, what we talked about today, all this information can be found online for free. Most of it comes from us here at the FAA. What I used was the airplane flying handbook, and if you don’t want to download the entire issue of that’s – it’s a pretty big document – focus on Chapter 10. In fact, if you look on your screen, I have drone info zone resources up there for you. I put the Airplane Flying Handbook Chapter 10 up there. The other document that’s helpful is a Remote Pilot Study Guide. It’ll get you to the right spot, in regards to: Operational risk hazard, and it does touch a little bit on operating during civil twilight and night. As always, FAA UAS website is your one-stop shop for everything you need UAS. Documents, FAQ’s, more information, all that is there for you continuously updated, and then most you are now familiar with, or hopefully are familiar with, the DroneZone documents. That’s where you’re going to find, not only your portal to apply for a Daylight Waiver, but it’s going to have your information for the Waiver Safety Explanation Guidelines, the Waiver Application Instructions, and a lot of other useful information in there, that you should read prior to applying for your waiver. This webinar series that we’re doing over the summer, we have a website dedicated for that as well. You can access all previously recorded videos. I highly recommend watching them all, because although this one is probably a pretty popular one: “I want to get my Daylight Waiver.” “I want to fly at night.” There are some key elements that we discussed in previous webinars about risk assessment, and what actual information we’d like to hear from you, that will really really help you out in obtaining a successful waiver application.

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