FAA Grants Its First Approval for Flights of Commercial Drones at Night

Decision highlights that agency is discarding or revising restrictions as part of policy shift

The Federal Aviation Administration has issued the first approval for flights of small commercial drones at night. The Federal Aviation Administration has issued the first approval for flights of small commercial drones at night. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS By ANDY PASZTOR

The Federal Aviation Administration has issued the first approval for flights of small commercial drones at night, according to lawyers for the operator, in the latest sign of how quickly U.S. regulators are moving to authorize expanded uses of unmanned aircraft.

Responding to pent-up industry demand for more flexible rules, the move will allow the U.S. unit of Toronto-based Industrial Skyworks Inc. to perform nighttime inspections of buildings and roofs with specially equipped drones flown by trained pilots—and under a spate of additional safety conditions.

But the FAA’s decision, which could set an important precedent for the nascent industry, highlights that agency leaders are discarding or revising earlier operating restrictions for unmanned aircraft systems as part of the policy shift that seems to be gaining speed.

Until the exemption was granted this week, agency officials repeatedly said any operations of drones after sunset—even small models or ones with enhanced safety features—would have to wait until further tests, analyses and formal rules were completed. The flights still must be conducted within sight of the operator on the ground.

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