AirMap: Making Airspace Compliance a Cinch for UAS Operators

by Betsy Lillian
on May 11, 2015 No Comments
Categories : UAV Safety

Not long after its initial beta release, AirMap – a free source for knowing precisely where and where not to fly your unmanned aircraft system – is now out in the form of Release 1.1.

At the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International's (AUVSI) Unmanned Systems conference in Atlanta, Unmanned Aerial Online got to chance to meet with executive vice president and co-founder Dr. Gregory McNeal, who demonstrated the capabilities and nuances of the service.

Offering both a street and satellite view, AirMap provides an outlet for both recreational and commercial operators to comply with flying restrictions, including proper radii from public and private airports, advisories such as proximities to schools, and cautions such as temporary flight restrictions. The service covers UAS operations in Class B, C, D and E airspaces.

McNeal stressed the level of detail – “down to the street level,” he said – necessary to be in compliance with often complex state and local laws for UAS operations. That’s where comes in: a division of AirMap that allows the municipalities to contribute ordinances they’re aware of. AirMap can then incorporate these laws into the growing system, McNeal explained.

To show the intricacy of the boundaries created as a result of some of these laws, he zoomed in to an area of San Mateo, Calif., which showed an interesting view of an area clogged with airport restrictions.

According to AirMap’s markings, recreational flying is not permitted from 1st through 8th avenues, but 9th is cleared for flying. Beyond 9th avenue, the vast red space is back to signal no flying. When you switch to commercial flying, however, it’s a no-go; 9th avenue is now blocked out, as a blanket Commercial of Waiver or Authorization through a Section 333 exemption prohibits UAS operations 5 nautical miles from an airport (with an operational control tower), as opposed to recreational aircraft’s prescribed 5 miles from an airport.
McNeal – who is, among other titles, a lawyer, college professor and drone operator – teamed with Ben Marcus, a longtime manned aircraft pilot and co-founder of jetAVIVA, to create the system, which McNeal said has been months in the making.

A service of AirMap is, a database – launched earlier this year – that allows users to create geo-fences around their residential properties if they would prefer UAS, or UAS for certain types of applications, stay away from the area. Small UAV Coalition members DroneDeploy and EHANG were a few of the companies that participated in the launch.

As for AirMap, McNeal said that film-production company Aerial MOB, one of the first U.S. entities to ever land a Section 333 exemption, and Measure, of which McNeal is a senior advisor on the company’s Drone as a Service team, are some of the companies already using the service. Skycatch, which just received a Section 333 exemption on May 5, was one of the beta testers that provided valuable feedback for the launch of Release 1.1, McNeal said.

In a release from AirMap, Aerial MOB CEO Treggon Owens called the map “a simple way to manage airspace compliance,” while Measure CEO Brandon Torres Declet said the “user-friendly software will help Measure more quickly and accurately visualize restricted airspace, reducing operating cost, time and risk.”

What adds to this “simple” and “user-friendly” format are the descriptions that complement each option and layer to add to the map. Each selection is accompanied by a question mark to further clarify that layer, and drone operators not as familiar with regulation can select, “Which of these applies to my operation?” and get a short but concise low-down on how far their operations need to be from an airport.

When asked if AirMap will one day become ubiquitous with UAS flying, McNeal agreed that it is the goal. “The demand for AirMap is clear, as it is the most thorough resource for drone operators to ensure safe, legal and hassle-free flight,” he explained in a release.

When you combine experts in law and aviation, feedback from end users who have proven to be compliant with UAS regulation, and the participation of municipalities across the U.S., you end up with a tool that may prove valuable in alleviating widespread privacy and safety concerns and, therefore, moving the UAS industry forward as a whole.

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