In an industry first, the Federal Aviation Administration has granted approval for commercial drone operations at night, a change in stance that is the latest sign regulators are willing to expand commercial UAS use.
Lawyers for the operator, the U.S. unit of Toronto-based Industrial SkyWorks Inc., confirmed to the Wall Street Journal (paywall) that the company received an exemption to perform nighttime inspections of buildings and roofs.
Previously, FAA officials stood firm that operations of drones after sunset would not be permissible until further testing and analysis had been completed and formal rules were put into place.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Industrial SkyWorks Inc. must use specially-equipped drones flown by specially trained pilots. Among other things, the drone must have anticollision lights that can be seen at distances up to 5,000 feet and the operator, in addition to being a traditional pilot with the required medical certificate, must complete mandatory training in nighttime flying.
Like typical commercial UAS operations, the nighttime flights must be conducted in the light of sight of the operator.
Inspecting roofs for structural issues and insulation deficiencies can be especially helpful at night, when thermal energy imparted during the daytime is transferred or released.