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Flying a drone at night is prohibited … except for an exemption granted to professional operators



I recently heard from a pseudo specialist in French drone regulations that it was forbidden to fly a drone at night. As this assertion was made categorically and with no exceptions, I found it useful to take stock of a more nuanced reality.


As we have just taken video shots by drone on a demolition site in the middle of the night and without a moon, I will explain to you why our service was legal, how we proceeded, what steps we took, what documents we provided and what are the risks of a shooting mission by drone at night, on what specific points we must focus our attention to carry out this type of service in order to produce night aerial photos or videos by drone in complete safety.


Can a drone fly at night?

It is not possible to answer this question abruptly without taking into account the context in which the drone is used. It is necessary in the preamble to agree on the use made of the drone because the regulations specific to drones distinguish 3 regimes depending, not on the drone used but on the use made of it.

3 drones operating regimes set the applicable regulatory framework:

  • Recreational use (can also be competitive)

  • Experimental flights, intended for the development of machines and their control systems.

  • In all other cases, it is a "particular activity" which is subject to a specific regulatory framework.


What is a "Special Activity" in general aviation?

Specific activities define the use of an aircraft for specific missions, essentially professional, which require specific know-how (as well as procedures often related to safety) which are not learned and validated within the framework current steering. For example, the airplane pilot who tows a banner, the one who drops paratroopers, the one who exercises within the framework of a photo or video shooting mission, or even the helicopter pilot who carries out the transporting loads under a sling operates within the framework of a particular activity. The operation of drones has therefore been added quite naturally to this non-exhaustive list, since drones are considered as aircraft… which circulate without anyone on board. An aircraft is a device capable of rising and moving through the air, such as an airplane, a glider, a microlight, a helicopter, a hot air balloon, … and now a drone.

In practice, and to simplify my point, we will retain two use cases: LEISURE. That is to say the use of a drone in a personal and recreational context which excludes by definition a professional or utilitarian context (even without remuneration). PROFESSIONAL activity. This is the case of DCOMDRONE

Is flying a drone at night prohibited? We can now answer in an enlightened way

YES. A drone should not be used at night. This restriction applies to both leisure and professional use. Drones can only be used during daylight hours, i.e. from early dawn until late dusk. In practice, in metropolitan France, theft is possible from 30 minutes before sunrise and up to 30 minutes after sunset.

Except that the regulations have fortunately taken into account the possibility of exemptions granted in the context of professional use. This is why I spoke in the introduction of nuanced reality.

The civil drone operator can therefore respond favorably to a request for the provision of night shots by drone.

In the construction sector, for example, a large number of construction sites will be interrupted at night to limit the noise pollution suffered by local residents but, on the other hand, certain construction sites will only be scheduled at night to preserve activities as in the case of the demolition of a bridge which forces traffic to be cut off.

Drone shot of a roundabout in the city at night
Drone shooting control screen

We also sometimes carry out missions to capture urban road traffic which lead us to operate during critical time slots which, especially in winter, are too early in the morning to be daytime or well beyond sunset. It will be the same to produce spectacular photo or video shots of a fireworks display or a night show.



For our last night drone service, and as always, we were first pleased that this order arrived early enough to take the necessary steps on time.

How do I obtain an exemption from the ban on flying a drone during aeronautical night?

In addition to the usual procedures, we have requested an exemption from the competent prefecture. For this we have filled in a specific document and sent it 30 days before the first flight date. At this stage, the particularity of a night flight lies in the measures to be taken to ensure the lighting of the site and the take-off and landing area as well as the drone lighting system which will allow the conditions to be preserved. of "flight in sight" which remain an imperative.

There is a special case which for once simplifies the process. This is the case of a flight near an aerodrome or in controlled or regulated airspace. These areas are by definition under the control of a manager who can lift a flight ban and therefore allow the performance of a service by drone at night.


This is for example the case of the P23 zone established above the city of Paris (P for prohibited), a prohibited overflight zone, day and night, in which we have the opportunity to frequently carry out reports photo or video by drone with of course the agreement of the Paris police headquarters.

After 3 weeks, we received a positive opinion from the prefecture in the form of a prefectural decree authorizing our nocturnal aerial photography by drone. This decree was drawn up after the favorable opinion of the territorially competent defense service and the civil aviation safety directorate.


Drone shooting at night - DCOMDRONE
Drone shot at night on a demolition site

What are the risks of flying a drone at night?

The risks that are added to those known in the context of the remote piloting of a drone carried out during the day are essentially due to the environment. Especially in the case of a moonless, perfectly dark night, the remote pilot will have great difficulty in visualizing the obstacles that may represent vegetation, buildings, power lines and their pylons, antennas of all kinds or other obstacles. near the area overflown. Faced with these flight conditions, the first imperative is to be on site well before nightfall in order to visualize, observe and above all memorize the close environment.


In order to guarantee "flight in sight" conditions, the drone has lighting allowing the remote pilot to see it at all times, but it is often impossible to distinguish an obstacle near the drone if it is not lit. By dint of observing the drone in the dark night, the pupil dilates and therefore the observation conditions improve, but each time the remote pilot looks at his control screen to know the telemetry information such as the distance, flight height, speed, orientation of the drone and flight range, its pupil will retract to adapt to the light of the screen, plunging it back into darkness as soon as it raises the head towards the drone. It is therefore imperative to perfectly identify and keep in mind the limits of the area overflown and of course to respect them at the risk of hitting an obstacle, interrupting the service, having to assume the financial consequences and finally, leaving a bad memory of your benefit.

At DCOMDRONE, our professional response is to recommend the implementation of a pair composed of a remote pilot and a cameraman in order to minimize the risk taking inherent in the flight conditions described above. This configuration will also offer more possibilities for creating complex and spectacular plans.

Not all drones dedicated to photography or video are suitable for night shots.

The characteristics and in particular the sensitivity of the on-board photo and video sensors condition the quality of the images produced. So not all drones are recommended for this type of service. Our preference goes to the DJI Inspire2 equipped with an interchangeable lens sensor that will allow us to choose bright optics better suited to low light conditions.

 

In summary

  • Prohibited from flying a drone at night for personal or recreational use.

  • Authorization granted to professional remote pilots by derogation with a period of instruction which can be 30 days.

  • Favor the intervention of a pair made up of a remote pilot and a cameraman.

  • Operate a drone suitable for night shots.

 

If you want to know more, do not hesitate to contact us. We will be happy to listen to you and advise you.

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