FAA expands drone airspace authorization program to 500 airports

The FAA’s Acting Administrator, Dan Elwell, announced during the FAA Symposium last week that the tests of the automated Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) system will be expanded. This is an important step towards an Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management System (UTM).

LAANC will be expanded to 500 airports

During the 3rd Annual FAA Symposium last week in Baltimore, Acting Dan Elwell announced that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will be expanding tests of their automated airspace authorization request system for commercial drone pilots.

Commercial drone operators that fly under the FAA’s Part 107 small drone rule must obtain approval before flying their unmanned aerial vehicles in controlled airspace. The FAA has had a hard time keeping up with the number of requests coming in, often leading to delays of weeks and months. According to AOPA, the FAA so far has processed 32,000 flight authorization requests and currently has 12,000 such requests pending. In reality, this means that many requests take at least 90 days or more to process.

The automated authorization system called; Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) aims to provide near real-time authorization for commercial pilots. Recently the FAA has started testing with this new system and has now announced that they will deploy LAANC to nearly 300 air traffic facilities covering roughly 500 airports starting in April.

Starting in April the FAA will also consider working with other LAANC service providers. Currently, there are four: AirMap, Project Wing, Rockwell Collins, and Skyward. Companies that are interested will have to apply with the FAA before May 16th.

The FAA expects that the introduction of LAANC to a much larger group of air traffic facilities will reduce ‘non-compliant’ drone flights by 30%.

On April 30, 2018, FAA will begin to roll out the capability regionally as part of a National Beta Test.

  • South Central USA April 30, 2018
  • Western North USA May 24, 2018
  • Western South USA June 21, 2018
  • Eastern South USA July 19, 2018
  • Eastern North USA August 16, 2018
  • Central North USA September 13, 2018

If you want to fly in controlled airspace near airports not offering LAANC, you can either use the manual process to apply for an authorization or wait until the LAANC is available.

DroneDJ’s take

The further roll-out of LAANC is a promising sign of the FAA speeding things up. So far many commercial drone pilots have been complaining that it oftentimes took the FAA weeks if not months before they would approve or deny a request for a waiver. LAANC provides near-instant approvals and is an important step towards creating an Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management System (UTM).

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Avatar for Haye Kesteloo Haye Kesteloo

Haye Kesteloo is the Editor in Chief and Main Writer at DroneDJ, where he covers all drone related news and writes product reviews. He also contributes to the other sites in the 9to5Mac group such as; 9to5Mac, 9to5Google, 9to5Toys and Electrek. Haye can be reached at haye@dronedj.com or @hayekesteloo