When investing in drone technology for either personal use or for a specific organization or industry, it can be useful to procure various accessories. As one of the most essential accessories for drone aircraft, anti-collision lights serve to increase flight safety and ensure compliance with drone flight laws. As there are various types of lighting for drones, understanding which ones are the most useful and how to meet flight requirements is crucial for any drone aircraft owner or operator.
Generally speaking, anti-collision lights consist of very bright LED bulbs or lights that are capable of making the drone visible during low-light conditions. Regardless of whether the intention of flying is for entertainment purposes or for an organization, anti-collision lights are sometimes a requirement for any flight held after daylight hours. Despite FAA mandates existing for drone body aircraft lighting, such accessories also are important for general protection of the vehicle itself. With proper lighting, obstacles can be better avoided.
Within the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, a summary of all drone laws are provided for operators to follow. Across all provisions, however, there is currently no mandate that requires recreational drone pilots to fit their drone with anti-collision lights. Nevertheless, the FAA still recommends that operators not operate their drone past daylight hours without lighting as it will make flying and maintaining location and orientation much more difficult.
For commercial drone aircraft flight, on the other hand, there are various restrictions and laws that must be adhered to for proper compliance. Within 14 CFR Part 107, daylight operation is summarized under Section 107.29. There, it is stated that no person may operate a small unmanned aircraft at night, and no small unmanned aircraft system may be operated during civil twilight unless it is fitted with anti-collision lighting that is visible for at least 3 miles. For the means of safety, the rules also permit operators to dim lights as necessary if there is an applicable reason to do so. As the section continues, it also clarifies that civil twilight begins 30 minutes before official sunrise and ends 30 minutes after official sunset.
Despite these rulings, drones may still be operated during night hours if the operator applies for and receives a night waver. Such requests are given by various parties at the discretion of the FAA, and they account for up to 95% of all waiver requests received by the organization. To be granted such a waiver, the operator typically has to show that they can overcome visual illusions resulting from darkness, conduct an assessment of the flight area during daylight hours, and have equipped their drone aircraft with the proper anti-collision lighting.
While anti-collision lights are mandated for certain operators during night hours, there is no particular requirement on what type of lighting may be used. As such, red lights, green lights, white lights, or other colors may be implemented. With many drones, anti-collision lights may already be included on the drone body, and thus may not be needed. It is important to know the distinction between navigation lights and anti-collision lights as they operate differently. Typically, an anti-collision light will act similarly to a strobe bulb, providing blinking or other patterns for more visibility. Additionally, white is the most common color for anti-collision lights, though red may also be used to prevent glare.
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