Morning, Noon, or Night: When Is The Best Time to Fly Your Drone?

If you’re new to drone surveying, navigating all the ins and outs of getting your drone program up and running is a big priority. Sometimes basic logistics can slip through the cracks.

One element our customers have been asking about recently is, what time of day is best for flying?

ppk drone vs rtk drone


Before you fly your drone, make sure you’re licensed and registered as required in your area

First, it’s important to note that if you’re commercially flying in the US, Canada, or Australia, you need to be licensed or registered with your country’s civil aviation authority before you start up your drone.

See this blog on the regulations you need to know in order to start a drone program. 


Can you fly a drone at night? No. 

In the United States and Australia, it’s unlawful to fly your drone at night for commercial purposes, per FAA regulations and CASA rules. 

In fact, this is informed by most countries’ rules about flying within line-of-sight, as in Canada

So while you might be working at night on your worksite, save your drone surveying for the day. This is not only to follow aviation laws, but to get a better survey. 

If you rely on photogrammetric drone surveying, you need sufficient daylight to illuminate your site photos. 

A 3D site model cannot be rendered from dark photos, as they become too difficult to distinguish between.

drone surveying on a construction site

Worksites that need to do surveying during nighttime hours might turn to different technology. Ground-based LiDAR is a great option, as it doesn’t have the same restrictions on data collection that photogrammetric surveying does. You can do LiDAR surveying at any time, day or night. 

(It is important to note that strong rain or heavy fog can make LiDAR surveys unreliable, so make sure you keep an eye on the weather.)


Can you fly a drone during civil twilight? Yes, but you probably shouldn’t. 

Some countries, like the US, allow commercial drones to be operated during civil twilight. 

Morning and evening civil twilight is specifically defined by the FAA, but they essentially are the time between the sun being at six degrees above or below the horizon and fully setting or rising.

In some cases, this could be the only time you can fly, but we still recommend avoiding photogrammetric drone surveying during this time because such low light can adversely affect photo quality.


Your best option: fly your drone during the day

If you’re like most, you’re probably doing your drone surveying during the morning or afternoon, when it’s full daylight. 

This makes keeping your craft in sight easy, making sure your photos are high-quality simpler, and is recommended for safety reasons when it comes to both your drone and yourself.


Always keep the weather forecast in mind, no matter the time

However, drone surveying during the day doesn’t exclude weather affecting your flight. Make sure to keep your eye on the weather forecast. Plan accordingly. Do not fly in rain, snow, high winds, or fog. 

drone winter care

Lastly, in addition day-to-day changes in weather, you also need to account for the changing seasons. For a deep dive into surveying in the winter—and tips on doing it better—check out this blog

Things to generally watch out for are unsafe temperatures—too hot or too cold—for both you and your hardware; shortened days in winter; and drone and battery performance. 


How to start a drone surveying program on your site

You might also like:

How Does Better Data Capture Make the Role of the Surveyor on Site More Important Than Ever?
How PPK Drone Surveying Works
Women in Construction Q&A: Alaska DOT’s Brandy Milles

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