Flying your drone can be a lot of fun. There are actually a lot of great places where you are allowed to fly but according to the law, there are also some places where you can't fly. For instance, is it legal for you to fly your drone within 5 miles of an airport?
As a recreational drone pilot, you must request authorization from either LAANC or FAA DroneZone before you're allowed to fly within 5 miles of any airport. This is because the air space that surrounds an airport here is considered controlled airspace so make sure you get your permit before flying.
Understanding What Controlled Airspace Is
Controlled airspace is the area in which air traffic control (ATC) services are provided. This is typically located near an airport but its size and shape are dependent on how much traffic the area receives. The airport runway and facilities are also taken into consideration here.
It's important to understand what this airspace is because you must have approval before you're allowed to fly your drone herein. This is a regulation that's enforced by the FAA so that drones and manned aircraft don't accidentally collide.
How to Know if You’re Flying in Controlled Airspace
As the drone's pilot, you're responsible for determining if you're in controlled airspace. Fortunately, since there are a lot of apps that contain this information this is something that's very easy to do today. These apps contain a Facility Map or grid that informs pilots at what altitude they're permitted to fly up to. You can also find these maps on the FAA UAS Facility Map website.
The Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) was first introduced by the FAA in 2017. This is a system that allows drone pilots to request approval to fly in controlled airspace. The FAA will then automatically approve or deny such requests.
Common Questions Regarding LAANC
Understanding that LAANC exists and what its job is are important to drone operators. However, this doesn't mean that all of your questions will be cleared up. There are still some common concerns regarding this organization.
Can LAANC be used for requesting approval in advance of flying my drone within 5 miles of an airport?
While the LAANC system will almost automatically respond to you, it's possible to file for it ahead of time. In doing so you will need to specify the time and date of your mission.
Is LAANC approval supported by all airports?
Since the LAANC is still expanding only high-traffic airports were initially added to this system. When you need to fly within 5 miles of an airport that isn't on the LAANC list you will need to use the FAA DroneZone website to apply for permission. Getting such approval may take several weeks so be prepared.
Is LAANC useful for recreational drone pilots?
When the FAA first launched the LAANC in July 2019 it was done with recreational drone pilots in mind. At this time there were a growing number of drone pilots who wanted to be included within the system. Therefore the FAA made it so that the process for recreational drone pilots to make their requests was no different than what was being used for professionals. The only thing you'll need to do differently is to state that you're flying under recreational rules.
Currently, there are only a few apps that are providing recreational drone pilots with LAANC support. These include UASidekick, AltitudeAngel, Airmap, KittyHawk, and Thales Group. Once the FAA starts granting more companies with approval this list will grow longer.
It's also important to note that if your drone weighs at least 0.55 pounds you are required to register it with the LAANC. Whether you'll also be required to provide them with your drone's serial number will depend upon what software you're using. Additionally, it's important that you make sure to follow the flight rules that have been set out for drones' recreational pilots in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018.
How to Request Authorization Through LAANC
Now that you have a full understanding of what LAANC is and how it pertains to you, there may be a time when you'd like to use it to request authorization to fly your drone within 5 miles of an airport. For this, there are some important steps that you must take.
Provide information regarding where your drone will be flying.
When you enter into the app you will be shown a map of your current location. You can use this to make your request or you can use the search function to look for the specific address or landmark. Regardless of how you locate it, this will only be a point location.
Look for any restrictions regarding flying your drone in this location.
Now you should be able to know whether your planned location lies within controlled airspace and if there are any flight restrictions in effect. If you aren't within controlled airspace or there aren't any flight restrictions, you won't need to file a LAANC request.
Specify whether you're flying your drone under Part 107 or recreational rules.
Here you'll be asked whether you're a Part 107-licensed drone pilot or someone who's simply flying their drone for recreational use. The FAA will use this information in determining under what conditions they'll grant your approval.
Define the extent of your drone's flight.
Now you'll be asked to define the specific area wherein you plan to fly your drone. Depending on what software app you're using this will be done differently. For instance, with Airhawk you can use an ellipsoid tool, a box tool, or a freeform drawing tool to set your location. However, with other software apps, you may need to use a pre-defined grid. Regardless of how it's done, you must still specify the area within which you'll fly. In doing so you're voluntarily limiting the area in which your planned drone flight mission will occur.
Provide details regarding your drone's mission.
The FAA will also need to know the time, date, and duration for which you'll be flying your drone. Even if you select "right now," you must still specify a duration.
Provide your personal details.
The FAA also needs your name and contact information, as well as the make and model of your drone, and its registration number. It's important for the FAA to be able to get in contact with you through the phone number you provide. This is how they'll send you a text message approving you to fly within 5 miles of an airport.
Go through your pre-flight checklist.
The FAA will also provide you with a series of basic yes or no questions. These will mainly walk you through the steps of doing a pre-flight inspection of your drone. The items listed here are things you should be checking anytime you fly your drone.
Review your application's details.
Before you submit your application you'll be given the opportunity to make sure you've provided the FAA with all the correct information. It's important for this summary to be correct.
Submit your application.
You'll receive your request in just a few seconds or minutes in the form of an SMS message. This will contain a confirmation number and the flight conditions you must adhere to. Most apps will also let you download a PDF file of your authorization document so that you can either keep it for your files or print it out.
Apps for Applying for LAANC Authorization
The FAA worked with a few drone software companies to develop the LAANC. These software companies were then the first to receive it. Initially, these developers created the LAANC with Part 107-license drone pilots in mind. However, this capability has since expanded so that recreational drone pilots are now included.
The current list of FAA-approved LAANC service providers includes Aeronyde, Airmap, Airspacelink, AiRXOS, AltitudeAngel, Converge, Kittyhawk, Skyward, Thales Group, and UASidekick. This list is expected to grow as the LAANC system starts to be more widely used.
Part 107 pilots are able to make a real-time request for authorization through any of these channels. Many of them prefer to use Kittyhawk though because it has an additional feature that allows them to request "further coordination" if they want to fly above the controlled airspace's altitude ceiling. Unfortunately, getting such authorization can take up to 90 days.
Regardless of what app you use, it'll only take a few minutes for you to receive a response. This will be delivered to you as a text message. It'll state the conditions you must adhere to (e.g. allowable maximum altitude, area you're allowed to fly in). Make sure that you maintain open lines of communication with the FAA even once you've been approved in case they need to get in touch with you for any reason.
It's important to understand what the LAANC is if you want to fly your drone within 5 miles of an airport. They work with the FAA to monitor this controlled airspace and without their permission, you won't be allowed to fly your drone here.
Shawn Manaher loves to play with new toys and dive into new hobbies. As a serial entrepreneur, work definitely comes first but there is always room for hobbies.