The Federal Aviation Administration on Monday announced nine new partners to be LAANC service providers in its Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) project.
After a five-month onboarding process that began, the FAA has approved nine new LAANC service providers.The LAANC program began almost a year ago in November 2017 at just a handful of air traffic facilities. The LAANC program allows drone operators to use an interface from one of the providers listed below to request approval to fly in restricted airspace. Operators then receive approval almost instantly. The program has since expanded to air traffic facilities across the U.S.
Here’s are the nine new LAANC participants:
- Altitude Angel
And there’s one that stands out in particular. Any guesses? We’re looking at DJI.
DJI has been the subject of a lot of conversations lately (on this blog and elsewhere) about its increasing dominance in the drone industry. The Chinese drone manufacturer now has an estimated 74% market share, according to the 2018 Drone Market Sector Report by Skylogic Research, which was released on Tuesday. That’s up from a 72% market share in 2017. DJI had just a 50% market share in Skylogic Research’s 2016 version of the same report.
That’s market share in terms of hardware. Other (mostly American) countries have shown progress in other aspects of the drone industry around policy issues such as LAANC, or other projects like the FAA drone pilot program.
But with this week’s news, that could change.
DJI already does have the greatest portion of market share when it comes to flight logging and operations software, according to Skylogic’s same report. But it is just 40% — a relatively small figure compared to the company’s hardware dominance.
“This is because most operators perform aerial photography and/or video, so logging flights and managing
operations is not a priority,” according to Skylogic’s report.
Airmap and DroneDeploy came in the No. 2 and 3 spots, likely being used by people who truly need to log flights or use features such as LAANC approvals.
But with DJI now a part of the LAANC program, it will be interesting to see if established leaders in the drone policy and software space, such as AirMap, Skyward or Kittyhawk can maintain their positions. We’ll be watching to see if LAANC leaders like Airmap can hold their 12% market share in next year’s version of the same report, or if more operators transition to DJI out of the convenience of staying in the same company ecosystem (assuming they’re already operating a DJI drone).
“As a UAS Service Supplier, DJI now has the ability to allow enterprise customers and other professional users to use their DJI accounts to seamlessly apply for LAANC approvals while planning their flights,” according to a statement from DJI. “Further details on LAANC integration into DJI’s product ecosystem will be announced in due course.”
The nine companies announced by FAA this week join five companies that have already been working as LAANC partners with the FAA. Here are the five existing LAANC service providers:
- Harris Corp.
- Project Wing
- Thales Group
LAANC uses airspace data, including UAS facility maps, which shows the maximum altitude around airports where the FAA may authorize operations under Part 107 in controlled airspace. The program gives drone operators the ability to interact with industry developed applications and obtain near real-time authorization from the FAA. LAANC, a foundation for developing the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management System (UTM), is now available at nearly 300 FAA air traffic facilities across the country, covering approximately 500 airports.
Some industry players feared that the FAA selecting just that initial set of 4 companies to provide such a service with no clear criteria of how to get chosen was a threat to other companies, particular small startups with minimal resources.
“Getting exclusive access to what is essentially a national resource doesn’t seem like a fair gig at all,” said Joshua Ziering, founder of Kittyhawk, a drone-operations platform similar to Skyward in a past interview with The Drone Girl. “With this, the FAA is essentially picking winners in the private industry.”
It seems that the FAA approving more LAANC service providers could ameliorate those concerns. (Kittyhawk was one of the companies approved in this most recent wave of companies to be approved). And the FAA says it is accepting even more companies to apply to be a part of LAANC next year.
“The FAA next year will accept applications from parties interested in becoming LAANC service providers from January 7 to February 8 and from July 8 to August 9,” according to a statement from the FAA. “This is not a standard government acquisition; there is no Screening Information Request (SIR) or Request for Proposal (RFP) related to this effort. Interested parties can find information on the application process here.”