One of the ways of lassoing the skies and getting a hand on drone pilots flying in places they may not be aware they shouldn’t be flying and to incorporate UAS into the National Airspace System, the FAA with the cooperation of drone manufacturers and other industry partners developed the UAS DATA EXCHANGE.
This innovative system is what makes LAANC possible. LAANC is the Low Altitude Authorization, and Notification Capability, or LAANC for short since that’s such a mouthful.
What is the UAS Data Exchange?
The UAS Data Exchange is the umbrella that covers just about everything UAS for the FAA, from their DroneZone site to drone registration, down to the apps that make LAANC accessible.
Thanks to a collaborative effort between the FAA and private industry, the UAS Data exchange facilitates this partnership and allows the sharing in near real-time of airspace data.
The data exchange’s membership starts at the regulating body (FAA) and goes down to the end-user (you and I) and also includes everything in between. Including LAANC.
What is LAANC?
Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC). Yeah, just doesn’t roll off the tongue very well. LAANC for short.
LAANC is an outstanding bit of work that ties nearly all facets of the drone industry together (UAS Data Exchange) in a unified effort to open the skies up to pilots.
The FAA worked together with drone manufacturers on incorporating the National Airspace Systems Data into their programming and mapping, as well as multiple partnerships automating the application and approval process for airspace authorizations, or, there’s an app for that.
With approved UAS Service Providers, here’s where we get to the end-user, the drone pilot.
Through the use of an app, our Flight Plan requests can be checked against multiple airspace data sources, such as the UAS Facility Maps, Special Use Airspace Data, Airports, and Airspace Classes, TFRs (Temporary Flight Restrictions).
This is all done autonomously, simplifying the process and making for near-instant approvals.
Running through many of these checks before a flight used to be a time-consuming process.
Having all of that data on hand and it all being combined into a singular location and making it into an easily accessible app.
Well, having it all in one place and easily accessible through an app, was just brilliant. The FAA got it right!
Here’s how it works
There are several apps available for submitting an airspace authorization. Companies such as Aloft, Airmap, Kittyhawk, Skyward many others, you get the idea.
By downloading one of the above or your preferred choice, you will now have access to LAANC.
All of these apps are similar and offer many of the same features. So, which one you use is really about personal choice, which one you like best or what you’re using your drone for.
Once you’ve downloaded the app and have created a user account and filled out the important data, you can now submit a flight plan for approval.
The process is easy. Simply find the location you wish to fly in. This can be done by either using your current location GPS or by entering the location into the search tab.
Once you have your location selected you will be asked to answer some questions such as range of flight, the height of flight, time and date of flight, and others.
Once you have completed filling in the questions, you will be asked to confirm and send.
In a few minutes, you will either receive flight approval or flight denial. It’s that easy.
- Apply on the date you wish to fly.
- Select the exact time, altitude and location where you wish to fly.
- Make sure you select to fly at or below the altitude defined by the UAS Facility Maps (this will show up automatically in your LAANC app).
- Approval is typically received in near-real-time.
Further Coordination (Authorization above UASFM Values):
- Select the exact time, altitude, and location where you wish to fly up to 90 days before you wish to fly.
What if my Flight Plan is rejected?
In some cases, you may be denied an airspace authorization. This is rare and can usually be attributed to user error.
It’s always good to verify the flight plan information. You may have overlooked the height you entered or the time.
Simply fix the information or adjust the flight plan accordingly and re-submit.
In most cases, this will lead to the flight being approved and you are able to carry on.
In some cases, the cause for denial might be that the location is not currently a part of the LAANC system or in a Military Operating Area (MOA), and receiving an airspace authorization requires more detailed information for approval also known as FURTHER COORDINATION.
What if the Flight Plan is right, but I’m still receiving a denial?
LAANC is a great and ever-expanding system. Ever-expanding is the key, and as such there are places that are currently not a part of the LAANC system, and getting a LAANC authorization won’t apply to those locations.
LAANC currently is available at 726 airports.
In this event not all is lost, you can still apply for the flight plan approval by submitting a manual request. I like to think about it as the way it once was prior to having the LAANC system in place.
The manual Airspace Authorization can be done through the FAA’s DroneZone portal and does require a Part 107 Certificate to submit an authorization.
This was how all airspace authorizations would have been sent in and approved manually by the FAA before we had the LAANC system.
Here planning ahead is critical as this process can take on average 5 to 7 business days up to 90 days to receive a response.
So, no real-time authorizations are available there.
Also, when submitting a manual request, be as thorough as possible as you will want to not be delayed by having to resubmit due to a non-approval.
When should I use LAANC?
As we’ve seen above, the process for submitting a flight plan is fairly straightforward.
LAANC authorizations are for flying in areas of controlled airspace in and around airports mainly. Class B, C, D, E airspaces all require an FAA authorization before the flight takes place.
The apps mentioned above will identify the areas and are color-coded for ease of meaning. Class G airspace does not require any form of authorization to fly in.
There is a huge difference between manned pilots and unmanned pilots.
For generations, manned pilots have had a system in place where they use radio communications and call signs to communicate with an airport control tower.
Air traffic controllers in the tower guide and direct the manned aircraft around the congested airspace that is the airspace around airports.
It is here that airspaces originated, and it is here that the old ways of doing things were clearly not going to work with the inclusion of unmanned aircraft.
If you have ever gone through the manual process for getting an airspace authorization, if approved, it most likely came with instructions such as “contact this number 15 mins prior to take-off and after completing the flight.”
That number was typical to the Air traffic control for the area in which you were flying. This is also where clear signs of information breakdown would come in, as most of the time, that person on the other end had no idea what you were talking about.
The manual method was inefficient, to be kind. It’s what we had, and the object was not to have every drone pilot calling in their flights to Air traffic control constantly.
Even limiting those calls to a drone pilot who had authorization was still a whole lot of calls. Many times the same approved authorization was still sitting in an unlooked at email. It simply was not a job Air traffic Controllers wanted.
After all, just moving those manned aircraft around is a big enough task, I agree.
Having drone pilots calling some poor person whose number was lifted from a binder at the FAA Office wasn’t working either, so LAANC was created as a means of bringing unmanned aircraft into more controlled airspaces and maintaining safety and some knowledge of when and where an unmanned system may be present in that controlled airspace.
Once again here is one of those places the FAA really nailed it. The LAANC system works and works well, making us all safer.
Fly Safe, Fly Always, Always Fly Safe!