drone footage at night over people aerial FAA

U.S. could allow drones to fly at night and over people

The U.S. Department of Transportation this week announced proposed new rules that could allow drones to fly at night and over people without waivers under certain conditions.

What changes could come to rules around flying drones at night?

Currently it is illegal under FAA rule Part 107.29 to fly drones at night. But here’s the thing: many drone operations, such as anti-poaching, search and rescue or emergency response occur at night. And the data proves it: since Dec. 31, 2017, the FAA has received 4,837 requests from operators or companies wanted to operate at night — by far the most common waiver request received by the FAA.

And here’s the kicker: to date, the FAA has not received any reports of a drone accident operating under a night waiver.

Some drone operators have suggested that flying at night is actually safer, because collision lights make the drone easy to spot in the sky, and there is no sun in eyes to interfere with line of sight.

And it seems the FAA is changing their tune and is now considering legally allowing drone flights at night.

In order to fly at night, under the new proposal, pilots would have to simply a new “knowledge testing or training,” and they would have to ensure their drone has an anti-collision light illuminated and visible for at least 3 statute miles.

What changes could come to rules around flying drones over people?

When it comes to allowing drone flights over people, the FAA has proposed three categories of drone flight types. Depending on what category your drone flight falls under ,you may be able to fly over people.

Category 1: Under Category 1 flights, operators of drones weighing 0.55 pounds or less would be able to fly over people. There would be no waivers and no design standards required for the hardware itself.

Category 2: Drones weighing more than 0.55 pounds would fall under either Category 2 or 3 (the difference being whether the drone hardware itself meets certain performance standards).

To fall under category 2, the drone’s manufacturer would have to prove their drone meets a set of performance requirements where, if the drone hit a person, would not “result in an injury as severe as the injury that would result from a transfer of 11 ft-lbs of kinetic energy from a rigid
object.” The aircraft would also not be able to have exposed rotating parts that could lacerate human skin (aka sharp propellers).

To meet those standards, manufacturers would have to take into account factors like weight limitations, speed, materials/construction methods used and failsafe measures.

“For example, using frangible materials, or designing aircraft to crumple upon impact in a way that would likely reduce the amount of kinetic energy transferred and, as a result, the severity of the injury,” according to the FAA’s draft proposal.

Category 3: Category 3 is largely similar to Category 2, but has additional operational limitations. Instead of the Category 2’s 11 ft-lb kinetic energy threshold, a Category 3 drone flight “would require a small unmanned aircraft to be designed, upon impact with a person, not to result in an injury as severe as the injury that would result from a transfer of 25 ft-lbs of kinetic energy from a rigid object.”

Because of that higher injury threshold, drone flights falling under Category 3 would be restricted to closed sites where everyone below has to be notified that drones are flying over them. The drone may also transit, but not hover over people.

The new category 2 and category 3 could mean changes for drone manufacturers, as dronemakers seek to ensure their drones comply with standards so they can actually be flown over people.

Drone manufacturer DJI didn’t come out strongly in favor or against the safety standards, but did say that the FAA’s approach appears to be based on recommendations in a report from an FAA Aviation Rulemaking Committee that DJI participated in during 2016. But DJI also added that some details, such as the safety testing methodology, differ from the recommendations in the report and “compel further study by industry stakeholders.”

That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, but overall DJI doesn’t seem to upset.

“We are pleased that the Department of Transportation recognizes the importance of allowing drones to do productive work over people, and that they encourage manufacturers to develop creative ways to meet safety standards,” said Brendan Schulman, DJI Vice President of Policy & Legal Affairs. “We will review these proposed rules to evaluate how well they can be implemented in practice, and we intend to submit comments to help inform and support the department’s work of ensuring that drones continue to reach their full beneficial potential.”

The new rules aren’t particularly groundbreaking, but most industry experts say they are a welcome step in moving toward more widespread drone use — and it seems even the FAA recognizes that.

“These proposed changes to Part 107 would attempt to balance the need to mitigate safety risks without inhibiting technological and operational advances,” according to a prepared statement from the FAA.

“These FAA rulemakings will help advance the commercial UAS industry beyond the current regulatory framework,” said Brian Wynne, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI). “A rule that allows for widespread operations over people without requiring a waiver will allow more operators to harness the great potential of UAS.”

Read the full FAA proposed changes here.

So what’s next? The proposal will soon be published in the federal register, where it will enter a 60-day open comment period.

What do “drone flights” over people ACTUALLY mean?

Flying drones “over” people is kind of vague. What’s the trajectory of “over,” especially if a drone is moving.

But the FAA specified what Section 107.39, Operations Over Human Beings actually means. According to the FAA, “over” does mean just that: literally over.

A drone flying over a person’s head, shoulders, or extended arms or legs counts. A drone flying over any body part of a person who is lying down also counts. But fly two feet from them, and you’re okay.

4 Comments

  • Jane Bulmer says:

    Please do not let drones fly over our property at night or day. It feels like an invasionof privacy. We have someone flying a drone over our property at night frequently. Have it on game camera’s

  • Cathy says:

    I am being stalked by drones. I moved to the country to find peace and now I’m more stressed than I have ever been. I’m more aware of what is out there because there is less light from the city. They are invading my privacy , following me everywhere, I’m not sure how far the drone can be from it’s pilot or what type of drones they are and how capable they are as far as seeing inside my house.. I’m not sure how they are able to know where I am. I hear buzzing at night and sometimes during the day. How do I know where the pilots are and how do I stop this crazy drone stalking??

  • Kimberly says:

    Cathy, when I read your comment it gave me chills because I have been saying the same exact thing for 2 weeks now. I have footage from our security camera showing a drone flying very centrally around our backyard, at night nonetheless. And I have more footage of another night there was a drone hovering around in our front yard, just a bit further away. What really freaked me out, is my spouse and I were watching it live on the cameras inside when it was happening. My spouse got up to go outside to see it in person. As soon as he opened the backdoor, the drone levitated all the way up into the air, out of sight of the camera. 2 minutes after my spouse came back inside, it gravitated back down. I was alone in the house a week before this started and someone tried to break in at night by (what it sounded and looked like) either kicking the door in or trying to yank it off the hinges. I was standing 5 feet from the door and as soon as I screamed, the shaking stopped. I’m sure these incidents have nothing to do with each other, but regardless, the drone crap is scaring the crap out of me. Why are they watching my house and trying to flee out of sight when we walk outside???

    • Jonathan says:

      Here is what I recommend. Reach out to friends on social media, ask if anyone has a camera drone and if they are willing to show you how it works. Get some time in, and have that experience under your belt. The reason is, you will have a better understanding of what a drone pilot is doing, but moreover you’ll know what they are NOT doing.

      Drone pilots spend their flight time trying not to crash. The cameras on the drones really do not capture video very well, like, at all. In order to get “nosey” video, the drone has to actually be very close, moving very slowly. I don’t have to tell you that they’re loud, obvious, and apparent.

      How to find the pilot:
      Most drones can only fly 10-15 minutes on a single battery. Some of them can go longer, but mostly, its a short flight time. Set a timer for 10 minutes, then pay close attention to the final trajectory of the drone before it disappears. Wherever it went, you will find the pilot. He’ll be very apparent (just a dude standing out in the open, looking up at the sky). That’s your guy.

      Introduce yourself, and talk to him. Drone people are (typically) very nice, friendly people who know just how loud and annoying their hobby can be. You might just make a friend.

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