The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration in early February issued its millionth airspace authorization for drone pilots. The Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) automates the process for drone pilots to quickly gain authorization and provides Air Traffic professionals with awareness of where drones may be operating.
“This system has allowed drone pilots to gain timely access to busy airspace without sacrificing safety,” said Teri L. Bristol, the chief operating officer of the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization. “We are grateful to everyone who helped us reach this milestone safely.”
In Canada, this process is overseen by NAV CANADA, which includes the use of its NAV Drone application via a Web browser or mobile app, introduced in June 2021.
On February 11, 2022, the FAA also announced plans to begin field-testing new drone-traffic-management capabilities to further integrate these aircraft into the National Airspace System. The Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM) Field Test, which will start in the spring of 2022, will allow the U.S. government and drone community to continue improving standards, data-exchange methods and cybersecurity capabilities.
Under Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations, U.S. drone operators need to secure approval from the FAA to operate in any airspace controlled by an air traffic facility. Prior to LAANC, airspace authorizations were done manually, which could take drone pilots weeks to get approved. In 2017, the FAA recognized that the manual system delayed the agency’s goal to support routine drone operations and launched LAANC as a prototype for automatic airspace approvals.
Since becoming an official program in 2018, LAANC has provided an automated system for drone pilots – both commercial pilots and recreational pilots – requesting to fly below 400 feet in controlled airspace. Drone pilots are able to request airspace authorizations through any of the FAA-Approved LAANC Service Suppliers up to 90 days before they plan to fly. The system now covers 542 air traffic facilities serving approximately 735 airports. LAANC also allows the agency to provide drone pilots with information and guidance on where they can and cannot fly a drone.
In 2021, the LAANC capability expanded to provide night authorizations to Part 107 Remote Pilots. U.S. drone pilots can also request airspace authorizations using the FAA DroneZone, including for areas not covered by LAANC or when the operator holds a Part 107 waiver.