LAANC testing

LAANC testing rolls out this week in South Central USA

If you’re a drone pilot in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana or New Mexico, it just got a whole lot easier to fly a drone.

This week marked the first roll-out of the Federal Aviation Administration’s multiphase plan to test Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC).

The LAANC program allows drone operators to use an interface (designed by FAA-selected private companies) to request approval to fly in restricted airspace. Operators will then receive approval almost instantly. That instantly speeds up the ability to legally fly in controlled airspace such as near airports — a cumbersome process that had previously required individual applications and took months.

The expansion officially started on Monday with facilities in the South Central USA. Here’s a list of all the spots participating in the first wave of the LAANC program.

Jay Merkle, the FAA’s Deputy Vice President of Program Management announced at the AUVSI conference this week in Colorado that it has already processed more than 3,500 LAANC authorizations. 90% of those occurred in real-time.

Related read: The fight that’s roiling the drone industry: small businesses see an “ol’ boys club’ forming

The airspace authorization will eventually be rolled out to nearly 300 air traffic control facilities, which collectively represent about 500 airports across the U.S. That means 78,000 miles of airspace will be opened up to commercial drone operations once the program is fully rolled out.

The LAANC tests are a huge business opportunity for startups, which are looking to corner the market as the go-to software that pilots use to request airspace authorization. Companies including Verizon’s Skyward, Airbus-backed startup Airmap and Kittyhawk are aggressively promoting their airspace authorization software, particularly this week with AUVSI.

Related read: Kittyhawk’s Sonal Baid: ‘startup culture is playing a major role in defining the drone industry’

Kittyhawk announced at AUVSI this week that it had landed a partnership with flight planning company Jeppesen, which was acquired by Boeing in 2000. That partnership will Kittyhawk’s drone operation management software with Jeppesen’s navigation data.

The next phase of the LAANC roll-out is expected to happen on May 24, and will cover areas in the Western North USA.

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