FAA Rolls Out Automated Authorizations for Drone Flights

Nov 13, 2017 - 10:13 PM

The FAA has initially authorized two vendors—AirMap and Skyward—to begin offering methods that allow Part 107 commercial drone operators to request instant, automated authorization to fly in controlled airspace near select U.S. airports under the agency's Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) initiative at four sites. These are Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International (CVG) Airport; Lincoln Airport (LNK) in Nebraska; Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO) in Nevada; and California’s San Jose International Airport (SJC). Up to 49 more airports will be added by 2018.

Before LAANC, the waiver approval process could take up to 90 days. “LAANC is expected to dramatically reduce the incidence of noncompliant operations. The FAA estimates a minimum of 30 percent reduction in noncompliant operations would result in 450 fewer safety reports over the next six months,” the agency stated in a recent notice.

AirMap users can request automated authorization via the AirMap iOS and Android applications they currently use for flight planning and situational awareness simply by updating the app to access the new authorization features. AirMap submits the request to the FAA for approval and notifies the operator via text and in the app’s flight briefing that the request has been approved. If the flight requires manual approval by air traffic control, drone operators can request authorization with just a screen tap and receive confirmation in 30 days or less.

Verizon unit Skyward's system similarly uses a smartphone-based system. “Based on customer feedback, we know most of their jobs are in controlled airspace and getting access to fly in these areas is one of their largest business pain points,” said Skyward co-president Mariah Scott. “Operators have had to wait 60 to 90 days to receive authorization under the existing system. Now, with Skyward and LAANC, enterprises can get approval to fly in just two clicks. With this hurdle gone, we can expect to see substantial adoption of drone technology at the enterprise level.”