Drone operators in Cincinnati, Miami, and Phoenix rejoice: you will be among the first to receive automated authorization to fly in controlled airspace, rather than enduring months-long wait times.
Today, flights in controlled airspace, at certain times of day, or near sensitive locations require authorization from the FAA. Typically, these permissions are subject to lengthy waiting periods and manual approvals – creating delays and preventing commercial operations from taking off at high scale.
Real estate photography, building inspections, and agricultural monitoring are all jobs that drone entrepreneurs are ready to safely take on, and in Class G airspace, these operations are becoming commonplace. But if a commercial drone flight would take place in controlled airspace near an airport, drone pilots must wait up to 90 days to receive permission to fly from the FAA.
The 90-day waiver process is a major barrier to drone innovation, grounding drone entrepreneurs before they can take off. And it requires that the FAA manually approve or deny each flight request, an administrative burden that will only grow as millions more drones take flight.
Fortunately, the FAA is meeting this challenge head on. Earlier this year, the FAA published an RFI and selected a small group of 12 companies to determine how third party vendors could help the FAA provide automated authorization for drone flights.
Called the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability, or LAANC, the initiative will allow drone operators to apply for digital authorization using the applications they already use for flight planning and in-flight situational awareness. With automated authorization, drone operators will receive instant, digital approval to fly in much of our nation’s controlled airspace.
Here’s how it will work: the FAA has identified areas of controlled airspace where drone flights can be pre-approved up to a specific, safe altitude. They’ve provided that raw data to AirMap and the other LAANC partners to be translated into a dynamic, digital map. Using tools like AirMap’s mobile app, drone operators will enter the details of their flight with just a few taps, and in areas where flights are pre-approved, receive instant authorization to fly.
On the rare occasion that human approval is still required for flight, LAANC could cut wait times to as short as two weeks. If the flight needs review, the controller can assess and approve the flight via an easy-to-use dashboard provided by the LAANC provider.
This summer, the FAA kicked off LAANC by releasing facility maps that showed where flights could receive automated authorization at some of the nation’s airports. And now, we know which airports will be the first to provide LAANC authorization this fall. The list includes Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International, Miami International, Phoenix Sky Harbor International, San Jose International, and Reno-Tahoe International, among others. All told, 50 airports are expected to offer automated authorization before the end of the year. The rest of the nation’s airports will begin onboarding in early 2018.
The significance of the LAANC project can’t be overstated. It’s the first step in the actual implementation of Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM), the federated technological infrastructure that will facilitate data exchange and air traffic control for drones. And it shows that the FAA can successfully embrace innovation and work with private sector providers to open more airspace to commercial drone operations.
When the first facilities begin providing automated authorizations this fall, we’ll be getting an early look at how UTM will work in the U.S. – and how the American economy can benefit from commercial drone operations at scale. Until then, here’s the full list of airports that will be offering LAANC.
|B||CVG||Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport|
|B||MIA||Miami International Airport|
|B||PHX||Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport|
|C||ANC||Anchorage International Airport|
|C||GRB||Green Bay- Austin Straubel Int’l Airport|
|C||RNO||Reno- Tahoe International Airport|
|C||SJC||San Jose International Airport|
|D||LHD||Lake Hood Seaplane Base|
|E||ABR||Aberdeen Regional Airport|
|E||AMW||Ames Municipal Airport|
|E||ATY||Watertown Regional Airport|
|E||AXN||Alexandria Municipal Airport|
|E||BJI||Bemìdji Regional Airport|
|E||BKX||Brookings Regional Airport|
|E||BRD||Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport|
|E||CIU||Chippewa County International Airport|
|E||CMX||Houghton County Memorial Airport|
|E||DVL||Devils Lake Regional Airport|
|E||EAR||Kearney Regional Airport|
|E||ELO||Ely Municipal Airport|
|E||ESC||Delta County Airport|
|E||FFM||Fergus Falls Municipal Airport|
|E||FOD||Fort Dodge Regional Airport|
|E||FRM||Fairmont Municipal Airport|
|E||HIB||Range Regional Airport|
|E||HON||Huron Regional Airport|
|E||HSI||Hastings Municipal Airport|
|E||IKV||Ankeny Regional Airport|
|E||INL||Falls International Airport|
|E||IWD||Gogebic- Iron County Airport|
|E||JMS||Jamestown Regional Airport|
|E||MCW||Mason City Municipal Airport|
|E||MHE||Mitchell Municipal Airport|
|E||MKT||Mankato Regional Airport|
|E||OFK||Norfolk Regional Airport|
|E||OSC||Wurtsmith Air Force Base|
|E||OTG||Worthington Municipal Airport|
|E||PIR||Pierre Regional Airport|
|E||PLN||Pellston Regional Airport|
|E||RHI||Rhinelander- Oneida County Airport|
|E||RWF||Redwood Falls Municipal|
|E||SLB||Storm Lake Airport|
|E||SPW||Spencer Municipal Airport|
|E||TVF||Thief River Falls Regional Airport|
|E||YKN||Chan Gurney Airport|