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News & Notes

AirMap and the FAA to Enable Instant Airspace Authorizations

Forget about waiting months to find out if you can fly

June 30, 2017

The FAA, AirMap, and a number of other collaborators are working together to enable automated authorizations to low-altitude airspace for commercial drone pilots.

On Tuesday, drone service platform AirMap posted about a new Low-Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability, or LAANC. The blog post explained that AirMap partnered with the FAA to develop a system to make “authorization in controlled airspace simple, efficient, and secure.”

That same day, the FAA released a Job Order explaining a redistribution of responsibilities within the Administration. The FAA’s Headquarters will be approving authorizations on the behalf of its air traffic control facilities “in order to mitigate the impact of processing numerous requests.” It also mentioned there was “automation in development to process the large number of requests for authorization under 14 CFR Part 107.” You can read the document in full here.

And guess what: Gregory McNeal, AirMap’s cofounder, says the FAA’s automated processing system is referencing the LAANC.
Starting at Class E

Before anyone gets too excited, the LAANC system is not fully operational … yet. The automated system is expected to be operational in 2018.

“While the entire system is expected to be operational in 2018, the first airports will begin demonstrating the system in the fall, and the rest will begin onboarding in early 2018,” says McNeal.

For now, the FAA will be working to hasten approvals for Class E airspace using the Administration’s UAS Facility Maps. Class E makes up a large portion of U.S. airspace. In many areas, the base of is 1200 feet AGL, but it can also be 700 feet AGL or the surface. Class E often falls into the areas where commercial drone pilots may want to fly.
AirMap and the FAA plan to roll out a fully operational automated airspace authorization system in 2018. AirMap
A helping hand

In March, the FAA tasked its Drone Advisory Committee with finding new revenue streams. In that tasking document, the FAA explained its current backlog of work. “The backlog of waivers is worse [than the backlog of Section 333 exemptions] due to an even higher public and industry demand,” the document said. It also said the FAA lacked the funds to automate the approval system — which explains why they reached out to AirMap for help.

The FAA has kept its drone efforts running primarily by reallocating its staff and shifting internal funds. But absorbing the costs of activities like implementing Part 107, creating the B4UFly smartphone app, and developing a UAS integration framework is currently impacting the FAA’s ability to meet its many other responsibilities outside of the UAS arena.

“The 90-day waiver process is a major barrier to drone innovation, grounding drone entrepreneurs before they can take off,” says McNeal. “Fortunately, the FAA is approaching this challenge in exactly the right way. Collaboration like this is just what we need to open more airspace to drones. 
"Soon, LAANC will evolve into a digital and automated process, with instantaneous authorization on the AirMap platform."
So … what’s LAANC?

The description of LAANC is a little vague. For now, it’s a way to access the UAS Facility Maps and understand the controlled airspace in an area — which helps create effective airspace authorization requests.

But Airmap’s post also explains, “Soon, LAANC will evolve into a digital and automated process, with instantaneous authorization on the AirMap platform.”  

So we don’t know much about how the system works, for now. But in the meantime, you can go check out those maps.

Note: This has been updated to include mention of other collaborators with the LAANC. Drone360 reached out to the FAA for more information regarding its automated authorization plan and will update this story when we hear back. Additional reporting by Lauren Sigfusson.
Featured image: pixabay/RitaE