MissionGO Sheds Daylight on New FAA Part 107 Night Operations, Testing Requirements and Timelines
By: Sean Connor & Rodney Manuel
March 15, 2021
In December 2020, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued two new and very much-awaited rules for the operation of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly known as drones, including
1) Operation of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Over People (Operations Over People or OOP) and
2) Remote Identification for Unmanned Aircraft (Remote ID or RID).
Both final rules are key to unlocking the full potential of UAS in the coming years. But fast approaching are several significant changes within the OOP rule that will soon go into effect. Those changes include allowing small UAS (sUAS) Part 107 remote pilots in command (RPIC) to routinely fly operations at night as well as new initial and recurrent knowledge testing requirements.
NIGHT OPERATIONS – FROM WAIVER TO ROUTINE
As most in the industry are already aware, Part 107 limited sUAS operations to daylight only.
2§ 107.29 Daylight operation.
(a) No person may operate a small unmanned aircraft system during night.
(b) No person may operate a small unmanned aircraft system during periods of civil twilight unless the small unmanned aircraft has lighted anti-collision lighting visible for at least 3 statute miles. The remote pilot in command may reduce the intensity of the anti-collision lighting if he or she determines that, because of operating conditions, it would be in the interest of safety to do so.
However, the FAA did offer a path for sUAS RPICs to fly at night by requesting an operational waiver. This process has allowed RPICs to deviate from certain Part 107 rules, like 107.29 (Daylight operation), so long as they can demonstrate the ability to continue flying safely. Safety justifications for 107.29 waivers have included additional training for remote pilots and visual observers on the effects of night flying, conducting daytime site assessments to identify potential hazards, and equipping the aircraft with anti-collision lighting to be visible at least 3 statute miles away.
Over a 4-year period between 2016-2020, nearly 4,500 daytime waivers were approved by the FAA, averaging over 60% of all waiver applications. The level of demand for this waiver led to backlogs for the FAA waiver team resulting in delays for commercial sUAS operators wanting to perform night operations. Industry and the FAA were eager to find a solution that worked for both stakeholders. The FAA analyzed thousands of daylight waivers and determined that permitting routine sUAS operations at night under Part 107 will be safe, subject to specific requirements. Following a lengthy Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) process that was issued in February 2019, we are finally approaching the era of routine night operations under Part 107.
So, what are the new Part 107 night operation requirements?
Beginning April 21, 2021, 107.29 will be updated to allow routine operations of small UAS at night under two risk mitigation measures:
- The RPIC must complete an updated initial knowledge test or online recurrent training that have been updated to include night operations, and
- The sUA must have lighted anti-collision lighting visible for at least three (3) statute miles that has a flash rate sufficient to avoid a collision.
Additional information regarding night operations has also been included in Chapters 5 and 6 of the recently updated Advisory Circular 107-2A published February 1, 2021. The AC, which provides guidance for RPICs and organizations to comply with requirements of the rule, sheds more light on the updated knowledge test, UA lighting, and waivable requirements, including:
126.96.36.199 … the knowledge test and recurrent training will contain questions on night physiology and night visual illusions
188.8.131.52 … the sUA must be equipped with anti-collision lighting that is visible for at least 3 sm., but may reduce the intensity of the light in the interest of safety
184.108.40.206 … may request a waiver of the anti-collision lighting requirement
PART 107 KNOWLEDGE TEST – NEW QUESTIONS AND SOME WELCOME NEWS!
Part 107 Initial Test – With the shift away from waivers, the final rule updates the initial Part 107 knowledge test to include a knowledge area focused on operation at night. This means that all aspiring Part 107 RPICs will be permitted to conduct operations at night after passing the new knowledge test (and the OOP rule goes into effect). As described above, there will be questions focused on night physiology, visual illusions, anti-collision light requirements, collision avoidance with other aircraft, obstacle avoidance with a lack of visual cues, and more. Unfortunately, the initial test is still required to be taken at an FAA approved test center.
Part 107 Recurrent Training – For the good news, Part 107 Remote Pilots (who have already passed the initial test) are no longer required to complete an in-person recurrent test every 24 calendar months. Instead, they will complete online recurrent training using the FAASafety website with the new night operations knowledge area. And, instead of paying the usual $150 (soon to be $165) to complete the in-person exam, this training is free of charge. So, go buy an extra battery!
Timeline Changes- What happened to March 1st?
Don’t worry, you still have time to procrastinate getting ready for your test! Initially, the rules were scheduled to go into effect on March 1, 2021, 45 days after the rule was published in the Federal Register. However, following the White House order for a regulatory freeze pending review on new or changing federal rules, the FAA’s new regulations were delayed. Here is the FAA’s explanation:
“The rule was published in the Federal Register on January 15, 2021. Corrections to the final rule were published in the Federal Register on March 10, 2021 delaying the effective date to April 21, 2021.”
So now that we have an effective date of April 21, 2021 for the OOP rule and updates to 107.29, how does that impact your timeline?
- If you take the Initial Test prior to April 6th, 2021, you will not be responsible for night operation questions.
- If you plan on taking the Initial Test after April 6th, 2021, you will be responsible for night operation questions.
- Those who pass the Initial Test after April 6th are certified to fly at night on April 21st, 2021.
- Those who pass the Initial Test prior to April 6th, 2021 and then want to fly at night must either:
- Complete the Recurrent Training after April 6th to begin night operations on April 21, or
- Operate under an existing Daylight Waiver until it expires on June 21, 2021 (according to the rule), at which point you will then have to complete the Recurrent Training.
- If you take the standard Recurrent Test prior to April 6th, 2021, you will not be responsible for night operation questions. You will also still be required to go to a test center for this test. Basically, there is no change from the current process.
- If you take the updated Recurrent Training (on the FAA website from your comfy office desk chair) after April 6th, 2021, you will be responsible for night operation questions.
- Those who complete the Recurrent Training after April 6th are certified to fly at night beginning on April 21st, 2021.
- All RPICs currently flying under a Part 107.29 daylight waiver that wish to continue flying night operations without interruption must complete the new online Recurrent Training prior to June 21st, 2021 – all Part 107.29 daylight waivers expire on this date and are no longer valid.
Here is simplified view of the timeline:
Prepare for Night Operations and Part 107 Training with MissionGO
Whether your organization has an experienced UAS program or you’re just getting started, MissionGO’s UAS Training Program has the training, instructors and guidance that will ensure your team is prepared for the new Part 107.29 night operation requirements. Our expert instructors have been training commercial and public safety operators for years on night flying procedures and have processed numerous approved daylight waivers with the FAA. In addition to our night flying experience,
- MissionGO also provides a very thorough Part 107 prep-training course to help you pass the exam
- MissionGO has trained hundreds of pilots with a 100% pass rate
- MissionGO offers a turnkey solution to assist with every area while standing up a safe, professional, and compliant sUAS program
At MissionGO, we value continuous learning and safety.
“At MissionGO, we believe it is of the utmost importance to have a safe, professional, and complaint sUAS program. These three areas are key to ensuring your sUAS program has continued success well into the future. MissionGO is committed to aiding and supporting our clients in all of these vital areas. We are dedicated to keeping our customers up to date with any sUAS compliance rule changes within the FAA, or changes within the UAS community which could affect their program.“