Recent Changes in Drone Law to Allow Flying Over Crowds & at Night

City landscape taken by aerial photography drone flying at night

In an effort to help better establish an area for drone traffic in our country’s airspace system, the Department of Transportation made some major announcements in January. These proposed changes are intended to lessen the heavy restrictions of FAA regulation Part 107 and address major drone flying rules that have hampered the development of the use of UAVs:

  • No flying drones over people
  • No flying drones at night
  • Drone usage that might violate safety and security concerns

Because of Part 107, the FAA all but completely has grounded any drones flying at night and UAV flights over people. There is currently a way to apply for a waiver or exemption to these restrictions – but while night waivers have been issued, 99% of the applications for use of drones over people have been denied.

The DOT is hoping that a few changes in the laws will help invigorate the movement to see more drones being used.

Look – Up In The Sky!

By giving more freedom for drone operators to cruise over populated areas, it begins to address the rule where drone pilots must have line of sight in order to fly their drones. In order for UAV traffic to become a legitimate option for the transport of goods (be it to deliver medicine, shoes, or a cheeseburger), a pilot or automated system is going to need to be allowed to fly over areas where people may be in transit or gathered.

The new proposition is that drones will be categorized based on aspects like weight and if rotating parts could harm a person’s body. The UAVs who adhere to these new flying drone rules could potentially be used for transporting goods.

In the Cover of Darkness

With the rules for flying over people being changed, propositions to allow for flying drones at night are also being adjusted. The significance of drone night flight to the future of UAVs is a simple one: by allowing pilots to fly at night, you instantly increase the number of hours that a drone is useful.

Some simple examples of how allowing drones to fly at night could be a major benefit:

  • Hospitals that run short of medicine could turn to drone delivery to get a patient a life-saving vaccine from a cross-town clinic at 2 A.M. – avoiding issues like sending trained manpower away from your hospital to go get the medicine.
  • The agricultural industry would be able to spray crops overnight instead of having to cease all flights 30 minutes after twilight – giving them roughly 10 additional hours of operating time. Many also believe night spraying would reduce risk to our honeybees.
  • Vector Control and Mosquito Abatement would benefit by being able to spray during peak-activity times for those pests.
  • Drones flying at night may also decrease potential risk at search and rescue sites, in addition to providing added security for high-level businesses.

The DOT also awarded contracts to help advance the further development of technology that coordinates flight plans, communications, separations, and weather services for drones cruising under 400 feet. These programs are already being implemented in the agricultural industry (crop assessment, irrigation inspection, spraying, and more), law enforcement (crime scene investigation, surveillance and monitoring, chemical biological agent detection, and more), and first responder/search and rescue applications.

Additionally, the Department of Transportation also changed the way in which a pilot can earn certification – allowing operators to now take an online recurrent training course instead of having to go to a testing center for a recurrent knowledge exam (notice the difference in wording: training versus knowledge). The training exam would test on things like weather, aircraft loading, and the impact of drugs and alcohol on your ability to pilot a drone.

These changes of drone flying rules are all vital parts to helping make UAVs a viable and realistic part of business and industry in the near future. While it may take one to two years before these changes are put into effect, it allows developers, pilots and other UAV enthusiasts a chance to prepare for the new frontier of drones flying at night and over populated areas.

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