Flying drones in the United States in a variety of common situations such as over people, at night or beyond line of sight, is illegal, without a waiver.
But there is one situation in particular that has received an overwhelming majority in the number of waivers that have been issued.
Under the Federal Aviation Administration’s Part 107 small UAS rule, which was implemented in August 2016, drones have to adhere to a series of rules, which they can be exempt from if they apply for a waiver. Today, nearly 2,000 waivers have been issued to drone operators nationwide.
And a whopping 1800 waivers — that is about 92% — have been issued to authorize drone operations at night.
That’s far beyond the second-most common reason for a Part 107 waiver exemption — operations in certain airspace — which claims just 5% of all exemptions for a total of 97 waivers. The simultaneous operation of multiple took 2% of all waivers, which is just 41.
That’s according to a report compiled by AUVSI based on data collected from the FAA’s database.The graphic is also sortable based on the type, location, and revenue/employee ranges of operators (some browsers may require to scroll right to see the full interactive features).
Note that this data indicates the types of waivers that the FAA actually issues, not necessarily the types of waivers people necessarily apply for. Whereas flying over people or beyond line of sight comes with common concerns like “what happens if the drone crashes into a crowd” or “how do we ensure the drone doesn’t lose communication,” flying at night is fairly straightforward.
Some experts have even indicated that flying at night is actually safer, because as long as the drone has lights, it is actually easier to spot than a light-colored drone flying in a bright sky, potentially in front of the sun, which would block the operator’s vision.
So why are people flying drones at night? Among the most popularly-seen use-cases for a Part 107 waiver are using drones for light shows, as a more environmentally-friendly replacement to fireworks. Intel has been one of the widest creator of drone light shows, putting drones over the night sky at events such as Coachella, the Super Bowl and Walt Disney World. They recently flew over the skies of Los Angeles for an event promoting Wonder Woman and over the Bellagio fountain in Las Vegas for CES 2018.
It is also common for nighttime waivers to be issued to emergency responders, including the New York State Police and the Arizona Department of Public Safety. Nighttime waivers have also been issued to major organizations such as Fox News and Google X’s Project Wing.
The AUVSI report also delves into a variety of other categorical breakdowns of Part 107 waiver requests, including state and revenue. See the entire report here.