You may have heard that you can’t fly drones near airports. That’s not entirely true. You can’t fly drones near airports without permission. The good news is that it’s incredibly easy to get that permission, whether you’re a commercial drone pilot, or a recreational hobbyist (meaning you fly drones for fun, not for pay). Here’s how:
The system for recreational and commercial drone pilots to get permission to fly in controlled airspace, such as near airports, is called LAANC (it stands for Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability).
To get LAANC permission, you can use any one of a number of third-party, FAA-approved UAS Service Suppliers, to request authorization to fly in that controlled airspace. As of July 2019 (when the FAA made the instant approval process publicly available to recreational pilots), there were 14 FAA-approved LAANC service suppliers (though only six of the 14 are available to the public, meaning the other ones serve private clients or their own employees).
Those service suppliers include private companies such as Kittyhawk, Altitude Angel, AirMap, Skyward, Airbus, Unifly, DJI and Project Wing (the drone arm of the company formerly known as Google).
Most authorization is granted almost instantly (especially if you’re flying below 400 feet and in controlled airspace around airports). More complicated flights, such as those more than 400 feet, or in more complex airspaces, can submit a “further coordination request,” which can be applied for up to 90 days in advance of a flight. However, that’s only available to Part 107 pilots only (meaning you’ve passed a written test to become a certified commercial drone pilot).
The process for getting LAANC approval varies depending on which third-party LAANC service you use. Here are some of the suppliers:
Kittyhawk is a free app available on Android and iOS that does a variety of drone flight planning, including flight logging, checklists, asset tracking, live streaming, and of course, getting real-time authorization to fly in controlled airspace. Your LAANC authorizations will tie back to all of your other logs and activity inside of Kittyhawk, to help keep your drone data to just one place.
To use it, you drop a pin in your desired flight location on the app, and then select your more specific flight area and desired altitude, alongside other flight data like data and time. From there, you submit your flight and, if approved, you’ll be able to view your authorization on the airspace map.
One interesting point for Kittyhawk: it’s endorsed by DJI.
“It’s the app I personally use when I want to check the airspace,” said Brendan Schulman, DJI Vice President of Policy & Legal Affairs. “We are glad to be able to refer DJI’s many recreational users to Kittyhawk’s easy-to-use tools to fly in compliance with the new requirements for recreational flights in controlled airspace.”
To use Airmap to request and receive approvals, you’ll need to download the AirMap for Drones app. From there, you login, and search for a nearby LAANC-enabled airport (you’ll need to pan and zoom until you see the individual grids within the airspace ring). Once inn, click to start creating a flight plan. Once you’ve completed a preflight checklist and reviewed your flight, you’ll be able to submit your LAANC authorization request. If approved, you’ll receive an SMS message with a confirmation number, which will be used by the FAA for identifying your flight. The app also allows you to view your authorization confirmation and download a LAANC Notice of Authorization as a PDF directly from the app.
The UK-based unmanned traffic management provider has a piece of free software for pilots in the U.S. to get approval to fly in controlled airspace. There’s no app or other third-party platform to download, just go to their Drone Safety Map website and create an account. From there, you can type in the area of your flight, and you’ll be able to submit and flight reports and LAANC flight reports.
Have you used LAANC to request instant airspace approval? What was your experience like? Leave a comment!