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Can You Fly a Drone in Class C Airspace?

Drone pilots must familiarize themselves with the various airspace classes, ideally before planning a flight. You’ve mapped your route and will fly through a lot of Class C airspace.

Are you legally allowed to use your drone in Class C Airspace?

Pilots who are certified through the FAA can fly in Class C airspace if they have the proper authorization. If you were turned down for authorization for any reason, you should not fly.

Today’s guide will tell you everything you need to know about flying in Class C airspace, so make sure you check it out!

What is Class C airspace?

Class C airspace is one of the simplest to understand and is also easy to avoid when necessary.

This airspace is the area from the surface to 4,000 feet surrounding medium and small airports.

The requirements of these airports are an operational control tower, service by radar approach control, and a certain number of instrument flight rules (IFR) operations or passenger enplanements.

Class C airspace is designed the same way as Class B with a resemblance to an upside-down cake. The difference between the two is only a matter of size.

Class B airspace requires over 5,000,000 yearly passengers (among other things), which means there are only a select number of large airports that fit that requirement.

Class C airspace encompasses everything below that without including the smallest airports and has a requirement of 250,000 passengers each year.

There are approximately 116 airports in the United States that are classified under Class C airspace.

Can a drone pilot fly in Class C airspace?

Like most controlled airspace, ALL pilots must notify and receive approval from the FAA to fly in Class C airspace.

Pilots must also follow the necessary procedure to receive permission. Approval cannot be granted by control towers individually; the request must be sent using one of two methods.

LAANC

The first and easiest method is through the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC). LAANC is a company created for the sole purpose of improving efficiency between the FAA and the drone industry.

» MORE: How to Apply for LAANC Authorization?

They work in collaboration with the FAA and are allowed to provide pilots with approval to fly in restricted airspace. LAANC works through a variety of companies to provide this to pilots.

Here is a list of the companies (apps) that are LAANC-approved:

  • Airmap
  • Airspacelink
  • Aloft (formerly Kittyhawk)
  • Skyward
  • Thales Group
  • UASidekick
  • OpenSky

Using an app or logging into these websites will allow pilots to indicate flight parameters and start their approval process. This process must be done within 90 days of a scheduled flight.

» MORE: Airmap LAANC Authorization – How to Apply (Step-by-Step)

It is good practice to apply as soon as the flight is scheduled to assure there will be less risk of delay because of long approval times.

Always be sure to specify the altitude limit, flight area, time, and duration of the flight. Denial of permission can come from small discrepancies or unintended problems caused by the application.

» MORE: Aloft LAANC Authorization – How to Apply (Step-by-Step)

Each of the application processes is slightly different, but each of them will ask for the same information. Simply create an account or download an app to start the process in each of the aforementioned apps.

Once you have an account it will be easy to look at the map where you plan to fly and immediately know if you can use LAANC to receive approval.

FAA DroneZone

If you’re unable to receive permission from LAANC or you want to go through the FAA, FAA DroneZone is the second method you can use to request permission to fly in Class C airspace.

The same rules apply such as the 90-day limit and the information required, but your request goes through the FAA directly rather than another company.

Although it may seem like you’re eliminating a step when using this method, it may take longer to receive an answer.

DroneZone should be familiar to most pilots, as it is used for numerous things such as registering a UAV. This method is also simple, but it may be a long process overall because everything is done manually by the FAA.

If you do not have a DroneZone account, you will need to create one before moving to the next step.

Once you have an account, simply log in and go to the drone owners’ and pilots’ dashboard. This will show your active accounts as well as your active drones. Your license will also need to be inputted if you want to access the waivers.

Scroll down and below where active drones are listed, there will be a description of waivers with links to the FAA regulations as well as a place to fill out a waiver.

On this page, the FAA does encourage going through LAANC if pilots are flying in airspace enabled by them.

If you still desire to go through the FAA, choose the option at the bottom of the page that says “create waiver”. It will take you to a page where you will choose airspace authorization and continue with the process to get authorization for the airspace.

If you have a DJI drone, you may recognize that it has geofencing always enabled. This will not turn off unless you show proof of authorization through DJI’s website.

Using your DJI account you will fill in the required information and proof of authorization when necessary which will enable a custom unlock of specific geofenced zones.

There is also an option to self-unlock which can be used when flying in certain areas. When flying in Class C airspace, custom unlock will almost always be required. Both are done on the same website.

The FAA is doing all it can to make airspace safer for both manned and unmanned aircraft, from the introduction of the Part 107 license to using airspace to restrict drone flight.

Although it may be frustrating to request and wait to receive permission, there is a reason for it and all the FAA does is to ensure the safety of everyone in the sky.

Drones are continually becoming more and more popular and easier to access, which puts pressure on the agencies in charge of safety within the country.

LAANC is one of the best methods created to reduce the amount of time remote pilots are required to wait simply to receive approval to fly in the area surrounding airports and other high-traffic areas.

Conclusion

Class C airspace is important to understand because of the frequency pilots will come within its boundaries.

DJI drones will always have geofencing enabled, which will indicate where you can and cannot fly. Other drones will not have that feature, and pilots must be extra careful not to fly in restricted airspace.

Always be sure to request and receive permission to avoid any problems with enforcement and possible revocation of drones and licenses. Authorization is a necessary process to ensure the skies are safe!

References:
LAANC (link)