First Nighttime Drone Flights Cleared for Takeoff by U.S. FAA

  • Approval is latest example of expanding drone operations
  • Ohio company wants to use unmanned craft for inspections

U.S. aviation regulators have granted the first approval for commercial drone flights at night in the latest example of the expanding uses of unmanned aircraft.

Industrial Skyworks USA, a Maumee, Ohio-based company that uses drones for industrial inspections, had been in talks with the Federal Aviation Administration for more than a year in an attempt to convince the aviation agency that it could operate safely after dark.

“It’s been quite a struggle,” Michael Cohen, Industrial Skyworks’ president, said in an interview. “It’s the FAA trending in the right direction.”

The agency will require more stringent pilot requirements than it has imposed on other commercial operators to ensure they understand the potential risks of flying at night, according to the agency’s exemption dated April 18. Drones also must be equipped with lights to keep them visible to the operator on the ground and to other aircraft.

FAA has granted 4,951 waivers allowing commercial drone flights while it finalizes formal regulations allowing such flights, according to its website. The Industrial Skyworks’ approval was the first allowing flights after sunset, according to an e-mailed statement from the agency on Thursday.

Roof Inspections

Industrial Skyworks is the U.S. subsidiary of Industrial Skyworks Inc. of Toronto. The company’s law firm, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, told the FAA it was safer to use unmanned vehicles instead of humans for hazardous work such as roof inspections.

In recent months, the FAA has taken steps to broaden drone approvals. It is crafting a new approval process for lighter unmanned craft, which would give companies and hobbyists more flexibility to fly near crowds. It also said in March it would grant approvals for commercial operators to fly at higher altitudes.

The agency is finalizing regulations to allow commercial drone flights without the current waiver process. The proposed rule, issued on Feb. 15, would have restricted such flights to daytime only.

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