In June of last year, the FAA announced the final sUAS Rule for commercial drone operations in the United States. The new rule, Part 107, provides the first national, uniform regulations for commercial operation of unmanned aircraft systems under 55 pounds, pursuant to a set of operational and safety requirements and a licensed operator.
These operational and safety requirements include standards like 107.25(b) prohibiting operations from a moving vehicle or aircraft, or 107.39 prohibiting the operation of multiple unmanned aircraft by a single operator, or remote pilot-in-command. Commercial operators who want to fly outside of the requirements of the sUAS Rule must formally request a waiver and/or airspace authorization with the FAA.
As of January 3, 2017, the FAA has granted a total of 256 waivers to Part 107. More interesting, however, is that 250 of approved waivers are requesting authorization to operate drones outside of part 107.29, which prohibits the operation of a small unmanned aircraft system at night.
That’s over 97.5% of waiver requests for the same purpose: nighttime operations. But why?
It may be that waivers for nighttime operations are the most popular, or most requested by drone operators. With more and more drones utilized in rescue missions, firefighting, and law enforcement, it makes sense that a nighttime operations waiver would come in handy. Unfortunately, the FAA’s published list of waivers granted does not identify the reason for the waiver request to fly at night, so we can only guess.
Or maybe waivers for nighttime operations are just easier to come by. It’s important to note that the the list only represents waiver requests that have been approved, so the data may only indicate that the FAA is more inclined to grant waivers for nighttime operations over waivers for other Part 107 regulations.
Another potential explanation for this anomalous breakdown of Part 107 grants is that it’s simply easier to mitigate risks for nighttime operations. The formal waiver request process requires that the requesting party demonstrate that they have adequately mitigated the risks associated with the operations outside of Part 107. Such a large number of nighttime operations waivers might suggest that risk mitigation for nighttime operations is easier to prove than that for operating from a moving vehicle, for example.
Since Part 107 passed early last summer, the FAA has issued an average of 300 licenses a day to remote pilots, signaling overwhelming demand for commercial drone operations in the United States. With more and more entrepreneurs and small business taking flight, we can expect waiver requests to grow and evolve to reflect new and exciting business applications for drones.
Authors Joe Marcus and Tony Tonnu are AirMap Intern Associates, pursuing graduate degrees in law and urban planning, respectively.