Without requisite permission, drone flights above a crowd of people, during the night or beyond line of sight is not legitimate in the US.
But there is a particular scenario that has been able to garner tons of waivers of late.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration’s Part 107 small UAS rules, implemented in August, 2016, drones are required to abide by a certain set of rules which they can be exempt from if they apply for a waiver. About 2,000 waivers have been issued to drone pilots throughout the country as of now.
Almost 92% of the waivers issued pertain to drones operations at night time.
This is way ahead of the reason placed at the second spot for a Part 107 waiver which is related to operations in certain airspace. It constitutes only 5% of the exemptions and is followed by the exemption for flights of multiple UAS at the same time which is just about 2%.
These figures have been collected from a report compiled by AUVSI based on the data collated from the FAA’s database. You can sort out the graphic based on the type, location, revenue/employee ranges of mission operators etc.
Keep in mind that this data reflects the type of exemptions that have been actually granted by FAA and not the kind of waivers that are typically applied for by the operators. There are common concerns linked to flights over crowds or beyond line of sight such as the possibility of a drone crashing down into a crowd or the aircraft losing out on the communication signal. However, night time flight adventures are quite a simple affair.
Some drone experts believe that flights at night are safer as long as the aircraft is equipped with lights as it becomes easier to identify in the dark sky in contrast to the day time as if a drone comes in front of the sun, it could be harder to spot.
Now, why are more and more operators preferring nighttime adventures? Light shows are one of the most common use-case of the Part 107 waiver as they are deemed eco-friendly substitutes to fireworks. Intel has been a pioneer in conducting huge light shows as their drones have featured in events including Coachella, the Super Bowl and Walt Disney World. Their drones also flew in the Los Angeles skyline for a promotion event related to the Hollywood blockbuster Wonder Woman and also over the Bellagio Fountain in Las Vegas for CES 2018.
Exemptions for night time flights are typically issued to the first responders including the New York State Police and the Arizona Department of Public Safety. Fox News and Google X’s Project Wing have also been granted nighttime waivers.
The AUVSI report also sheds light at the numerous categories in relation to Part 107 waiver requests including state and revenue. Here is the link to the entire report.