Last week, the Federal Aviation Administration approved a plan that loosens restrictions on drone flight in North Dakota, allowing them to reach up to 1,200 feet and fly at night, the Associated Press reports. These new rules are exclusive to North Dakota; the other five sites in which the FAA is testing drone flight are limited to daylight hours and a height of 200 feet.
There are significant advantages to flying drones higher and during nighttime hours.
Agriculture sensors need to be at a minimum altitude of 250 feet in order to function properly. If drones are to be used to identify wildfire hot spots or for search-and-rescue missions, flying higher would give the camera a broader range. Overall, flying at a higher altitude gives drones the ability to retrieve more data over a larger at a quicker pace.
The advantages to flying a drone at night are less air traffic and generally lower wind speeds. Infrared sensors that are used to spot people and animals also tend to work better in lower temperatures.
The FAA has not yet established a schedule for high altitude and nighttime flight, but Nicholas Flom, director of safety for the Northern Plains UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) test site, assured AP that the number of drone flights will be closely monitored.