Like other airspaces, Class D airspace is primarily a cylinder that extends upwards from airports to keep unknown aircraft from entering.
Class D airspace comprises the smallest airports and generally reaches from the surface to 2,500 ft. Like other letter-named airspaces, you can only fly a drone within it with prior permission.
About Class D Airspace
The only requirement for airports to be labeled a Class D airspace is that they have an operating control tower. This applies strictly when the control tower is in operation.
Therefore, if the tower is not functioning during the night (or any other hours), the airspace reverts to Class E airspace, which is controlled airspace that is not close to an airport with an operating control tower.
All airspaces B-D are near airports and require authorization to fly, whether a manned or unmanned aircraft. The best way to keep everything straight is to always seek permission when planning a flight near any airport.
The rules and regulations are unique for manned aircraft, but the authorization for remote craft is the same for all these airspaces.
Getting authorization for Class D airspace
Although all the airspaces require the same permissions and are accomplished the same way (details below), Class D airspace is typically one of the easiest to receive permission for because of the smaller amount of air traffic.
There are no restrictions or requirements of enplaned passengers or number of aircraft, which can lead to very few planes in the sky around the area.
The Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) is a collaboration of the FAA and the drone industry. Using the LAANC is the quickest and easiest method to receive permission for any airspace.
The collaboration allows companies to become approved to permit pilots to fly in controlled airspace. The LAANC permission process is done autonomously and goes through a system that notifies air traffic control of any unmanned aircraft in the vicinity.
Some of the companies that offer LAANC approval are:
This is not a complete list; other companies can be found online by searching for LAANC-approved companies or apps.
Each of these companies has applications that can be downloaded onto your phone to help with various tasks.
Most of the above apps will not only help with the application process but also provide a map with controlled and restricted areas shown in a way that is easier to read than typical aviation maps.
The second method is a longer process but works directly through the FAA. There are a couple of reasons that it may be worth trying.
First, there remain areas around the country that the LAANC has not reached and cannot give access to (indicated on aforementioned apps).
The second reason is if you simply want to work directly with the FAA for whatever reason and avoid a third party app.
This process is done through the FAA DroneZone. Most pilots should be familiar with this site because it is the same place they register their drones and upload certifications and licensing earned.
If you do not already have an account, it is easy to create one at FAA DroneZone (link).
Once logged in, you will need to add and register your drone (if you have not already done so) and any other personal information required.
After all your information is in the system, you will go to the drone dashboard and scroll down to the section about airspace authorizations.
There are FAQ sheets you can review with any questions you may have regarding authorizations and a place to fill out the application.
The FAA Dronezone also allows pilots to apply for optional waivers, file accident reports, and create community organizations for pilots in the area.
Each of these things does require an account and either a commercial (part 107) or recreational (TRUST) certification. Both are acquired separately from DroneZone. However, they are important to identify each pilot and the drones they are flying.
TRUST is a collaboration between the FAA and industry to provide TRUST and educational safety material to Recreational Flyers.
When requesting permission, it is best to start the process as soon as possible. The application can be made starting 90 days before the scheduled flight.
Always be specific with information such as max altitude, flight time, area, and any other information that may be pertinent to the air traffic controllers (ATC) in the area.
There may be times and areas that will require more details or communication with ATC during the flight.
Every application starts with these two methods, but it may go beyond in certain situations. Class D airspace will almost never need more than the basic application because of the limited air traffic in the area.
Class D airspace includes the smallest airports in the United States with an operational control tower.
Although it is required to request and receive permission from the FAA, it is typically easier to do than most airspaces due to the small number of manned aircraft in the area.
LAANC is the fastest way to receive authorization because it is done automatically. DroneZone is another method that can be used that goes directly to employees of the FAA.
The common rule of thumb is to keep away from airports whenever possible and check which areas are within controlled airspaces. Plan flights as soon as possible to start the application process and fly without any hiccups for you or your clients.
Be sure to follow the laws associated with airspace to allow pilots in the future to have the same privileges and capabilities that we do today.
Drones are developing faster than most technology in the world, and we must all work together to keep each other safe while flying.