FAA Looks to Dramatically Speed Up UAS Airspace Authorization

Citing safety concerns and an inundation of airspace requests, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is looking to speed up authorizations for Part 107 unmanned aircraft system (UAS) operations in restricted areas.

According to an Oct. 11 Federal Register notice, the FAA is looking to implement the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) system, which would allow the agency to green-light “near-real-time authorizations for the vast majority of operations.” This includes “Class B, Class C or Class D airspace or within the lateral boundaries of the surface area of Class E airspace designated for an airport.”

In July, AirMap announced that 50 U.S. airports, through LAANC, would soon be allowing drone operators to apply for automated authorization to fly in controlled airspace. As explained by the company, LAANC enables UAS pilots “to apply for instant, digital approval to fly in U.S. controlled airspace using the same applications they use for flight planning and in-flight situational awareness.”

In its notice, the FAA, explaining the benefits of LAANC, says, “It’s expected that operations that are relatively simple will go through LAANC’s automated approval process while more complex operations that require a more thorough review by FAA subject matter experts will go through the FAA’s DroneZone electronic portal.”

Since Part 107 went into effect last year, the FAA says it has gotten an “extremely high volume of airspace authorization requests for UAS operations.” Specifically, from September 2016-July 2017, the agency received 20,566 requests.

“Requests have steadily increased over time, and the FAA expects the queue will exceed 25,000 pending authorizations within the next six months,” the notice says. “The volume of these authorization requests has dramatically increased the time between submission and approval of those authorization requests.”

Importantly, according to the agency, because of the time lapse, there has been an “increase in safety reports due to non-compliant operations.” The agency cites an average of 250 “safety reports” per month that are “associated with the potential risk of an incident between manned aircraft and a UAS.”

However, the FAA believes that by implementing LAANC, drone operators would be more encouraged to comply with the rules if their requests were processed more quickly (the agency estimates that LAANC would take five minutes per request); there would be less distraction for air traffic controllers receiving calls from UAS operators seeking permission; and there would, importantly, be increased “public access and capacity of the system to grant authorizations.”

The full Federal Register notice, which includes an option to submit comments, can be found here.

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