The FAA added nine new companies to its Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capabilities (LAANC) initiative.  The press release is available here.   In addition to the five existing companies, the new companies will provide near real-time authorizations to small commercial drone operators to fly in controlled airspace near 500 airports.  The FAA will open its application process for more LAANC partners in January 2019, and again in July 2019.

The LAANC initiative has greatly improved the airspace authorization process, allowing a small commercial drone operator to receive near instant approval to operate in controlled airspace.  The LAANC system relies on airspace data, including UAS facility maps, which show the maximum altitude around airports where the FAA may approve operations in controlled airspace.  The LAANC providers have FAA authority to approve the drone flight immediately and, in turn, the provider provides the flight information to the FAA. 

Previous to the LAANC program, operators had to apply to FAA ATC to get approval to operate outside of Class G—a time consuming process.  LAANC is a first step towards the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management System that will greatly facilitate drone flights throughout the US.

The nine new companies underwent the five-month application process to become a LAANC partner, consisting of four phases—(1) the application; (2) FAA submission review; (3) technical interviews; and (4) formal onboarding.  The application includes an “onboarding application package,” that includes among other information—an approach to meet each operating rule, a demonstration of the company’s capabilities to provide the LAANC services, and a completed Memorandum of Agreement with the FAA. 

The current LAANC companies are: Aeronyde, Airbus, AirMap, AiRXOS, Altitude Angel, Converge, DJI, Harris Corp., KittyHawk, Project Wing, Skyward, Thales Group, UASidekick, and Unifly.