FAA Expanding UAS Airspace Authorization Program, Inviting New Service Providers

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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is expanding its prototype Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) program for speedier processing of airspace authorization requests for unmanned aircraft system (UAS) operators, the agency has announced.

Under the FAA’s Part 107 small drone rule, operators must secure approval from the agency to operate in any airspace controlled by an air traffic facility. To facilitate those approvals, the agency deployed the prototype LAANC at several air traffic facilities last November to evaluate the feasibility of a fully automated solution enabled by data-sharing. Based on the prototype’s success, the FAA says it will now conduct a nationwide beta test, beginning April 30, that will deploy LAANC incrementally at nearly 300 air traffic facilities covering approximately 500 airports. The final deployment will begin on Sep. 13.

According to the FAA, UAS operators using LAANC can receive near-real-time airspace authorizations; this dramatically decreases the wait time required using the manual authorization process and allows operators to quickly plan their flights, the agency explains. Air traffic controllers also can see where planned drone operations will take place.

AirMap, one of the current LAANC service providers, which recently introduced LAANC deep linking integration with other third-party developers, says UAS pilots near select airports in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas will be first to get started with LAANC authorization this spring.

Specifically, according to AirMap, the FAA will introduce the following regional expansions each month in the U.S.:

  • April 30: South Central
  • May 24: Western North
  • June 21: Western South
  • July 19: Eastern South
  • August 16: Eastern North
  • September 13: Central North

Beginning April 16, the FAA also will consider agreements with additional entities to provide LAANC services. Currently, there are four providers – AirMap, Project Wing, Rockwell Collins and Skyward. Applications must be made by May 16, the FAA says. Interested parties can find information on the application process here. (This is not a standard government acquisition; there is no screening information request or request for proposals, the agency notes.)

The FAA adds that LAANC uses airspace data provided through UAS facility maps, which show the maximum altitude around airports where the FAA may authorize operations under Part 107. LAANC gives drone operators the ability to interact with the maps and provide automatic notification and authorization requests to the FAA. It is an important step in developing an unmanned traffic management system, according to the agency.

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