The FAA is rolling out the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capacity (“LAANC”), a tool which is allowing operators of small unmanned aircraft systems (“sUAS” or drone) operators  to get immediate approval for certain operations in controlled airspace.  The introduction of LAANC will benefit commercial operators by decreasing the planning time required for many drone operations and increase flexibility in decisions.  LAANC is currently supported at about 50 airports from Miami to Anchorage and is scheduled to expand next year.

Commercial sUAS operators flying under Part 107 are prohibited from operating in Class A, B, C, D, or surface-level Class E airspace without either a waiver from FAA regulations or an authorization pursuant to those regulations.  For most locations in the United States, to get that permission, operators need to fill out a form and wait for approval—a process that can take up to 90 days.  Under the current system, companies wanting to fly in controlled airspace may be unable to react quickly to commercial opportunities.

The new LAANC system significantly reduces the approval time . LAANC shares current airspace data with third party applications, which allows for real-time processing and automatic airspace approvals at certain altitudes and locations. This fall, the FAA and private partners have brought the LAANC prototype online around certain airports, including:

  • Miami International Airport (MIA);
  • Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG);
  • Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX);
  • Lincoln Airport (LNK);
  • Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO);
  • Norman Y. Mineta-San Jose International Airport (SJC);
  • Ted Stevens – Anchorage International Airport  (ANC); and
  • 40 smaller airports in the Minneapolis Air Route Traffic Control Center (ZMP)

Regarding altitudes of operations, the FAA released a set of informational guidelines in the form of UAS Facility Maps earlier this year.  These maps show the maximum altitudes—ranging from 50 to 400 feet—around airports where the FAA may, in its discretion, authorize Part 107 UAS operations without additional safety analysis.  These maps are a helpful tool for UAS operators near airports, and provide a guideline where LAANC approvals are likely.  However, the maps are only recommendations—and not a substitute for a LAANC approval or traditional airspace authorization.

Looking to the future, a national Beta test of the LAANC system will launch in 2018, allowing commercial operators all over the United States to receive authorizations in real time.  Currently, there are two private entities that have completed the technical steps required and entered into an agreement with the FAA to provide LAANC services.  The FAA expects additional providers to come online as the system continues to expand.