(Editor’s note: As of October 2021, nighttime LAANC authorizations are live in the Skyward platform, which means you no longer need to use the FAA’s workaround explained below. Learn more in this article!)
In April 2021, the FAA’s new rules for drone operations at night went into effect. In summary, this means that operators can now fly drones any time after sunset and before sunrise, provided they meet current Part 107 requirements, which include new criteria for training and lights on your drone. But what if you need to fly at night in controlled airspace?
During daytime hours, drone pilots can submit automated requests for access to fly within controlled airspace through the FAA’s Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC). By using an FAA-approved LAANC service supplier, like Skyward, automated airspace authorization requests are usually processed within seconds by Air Traffic Control. (You can learn how to submit a LAANC request from Skyward in this article.)
Here’s the problem: currently, LAANC requests cannot be submitted for night flights. This is true for all LAANC service suppliers, including Skyward.
But don’t worry: the FAA has provided a short-term fix, and it is working with LAANC service suppliers on a permanent solution to be released in the Fall. Here’s Skyward’s summary of how airspace permission for night operations will work. For detailed information, visit the FAA’s website.
April – September 2021: If you receive a LAANC authorization during the day, then it will be valid for night operations
As a temporary solution, the FAA has provided a workaround. The FAA has issued a National Authorization that extends daytime LAANC authorizations to be valid for night operations on that same calendar day. Even though your night flight will not fall within the time window specified in the LAANC authorization, your authorization will still be valid for that airspace on that calendar day.
(Part 107 defines night flights as 30 minutes after sunset or 30 minutes before sunrise in a given location. The exception is Alaska, where daylight hours are defined by the Air Almanac.)
For example, let’s say I need to fly a late night drone flight on May 26 within controlled airspace in Skyward’s hometown of Portland, Oregon. If I try to submit a LAANC request for 10 p.m., it will be denied because the “Operation must occur within daylight hours.”
However, under the terms of the National Authorization, I can submit a LAANC request for any time during daylight hours on May 26 (say, from 9–11 a.m.), and it will be valid for night operations that same day.
With this LAANC authorization, I am legally able to fly at 10:00 p.m. on May 26. However, if my mission is expected to last until 1:00 a.m. on May 27, I would need to request two daytime LAANC authorizations: one on May 26, and one on May 27.
Fall 2021: Submit a LAANC request for your time of operation, even if it’s at night
In the Fall of 2021, the FAA will be updating the LAANC service to allow requests that start or end during nighttime hours. When these updates go live, airspace access will once again be confined to the location and time listed in the authorization.
For example, if I need to fly from 11 p.m. on November 17 through 1 a.m. on November 18th, I will be able to submit a LAANC request specifically for those hours. At that point, LAANC authorizations received during daylight hours will no longer be valid for night flights.
Skyward is an FAA-approved LAANC service supplier
Skyward helps companies of all sizes manage their drone operations and get access to the airspace they need. Since Skyward is an FAA-approved LAANC service supplier, our drone software platform and airspace map enable customers to submit automated requests for easy access to controlled airspace.
Check out our article on How to Access LAANC in Skyward.