The Federal Aviation Administration is in need of more private companies to help become LAANC service suppliers. Later this year, the FAA will open applications to become one — and luckily, the application period is fairly long this time around.
For starters, the application period doesn’t even open until a few months from now on May 3, 2021. From there, there’s a month-long window to apply, and formal onboarding is expected to take place this fall. That means companies looking to join the ranks of LAANC service suppliers have time to polish their products.
That’s likely in response to criticism early on that the FAA was becoming a “good ol’ boys club” because — when the program first launched — only about a dozen, handpicked companies were capable of being LAANC service suppliers.
Becoming a LAANC service supplier is an opportunity for the private sector to help develop the technological infrastructure required to support and accelerate drone integration. It also means that LAANC service suppliers have a hugely competitive advantage in acquiring users and growing their businesses.
Luckily, the number of LAANC service suppliers has grown dramatically in the last few years, including hobby-focused group Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA). And as of the end of 2020, more than 320,000 LAANC authorizations have been granted since the automated approval program was launched in beta mode in 2017.
What is LAANC?
LAANC is short for Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability, and it’s an essential piece of the UTM puzzle (UTM is short for UAS Traffic Management System, which is essentially air traffic control for drones).
Without LAANC approval, drone pilots cannot fly in certain controlled airspace, such as within a certain radius of most airports. That’s frustrating if you live 4.5 miles from Los Angeles International Airport in a suburb, and otherwise can’t legally fly drones in your own backyard. Hence, the FAA created LAANC in 2017 as an easy system to be able to conduct such flights that need approval.
LAANC is a public-private partnership between the FAA and private companies (that is, those selected through and application process such as this) where those companies provide tools where drone pilots can gain easy access to controlled airspace through near real-time processing of airspace authorizations. Typically it’s through smartphone apps like Kittyhawk, where users punch in their flight information to apply for an airspace authorization. Requests are checked against airspace data in the FAA UAS Data Exchange such as the UAS Facility Maps. If approved, pilots receive their authorization in near-real time.
LAANC currently covers 80 percent of controlled National Airspace at 400 feet or below.
How do I apply to become one of the LAANC service suppliers?
To become one of the LAANC service suppliers, you likely already have a fairly established product already.
After all, the application process is fairly rigorous, with an FAA submission review, leading to a 1-hour technical interview and ultimately formal testing.
“Approved LAANC USS applicants are expected to have a production-ready product,” according to an FAA memo. “The FAA expects the approved LAANC USS to promptly begin offering LAANC services within its planned business model. Any deployment delay beyond a reasonable time required for minor fixes, if required, and coordinated public announcements by the government may result in the FAA rescinding approval and asking the approved LAANC USS to apply during a future New Applicant Onboarding Process period.”
The application period opens on May 3, 2021. Here’s the full LAANC service supplier application and onboarding process timeline:
- May 3, 2021 – June 4, 2021 Application Period
- June 7, 2021 – July 9, 2021 FAA Submission Review
- July 12, 2021 – August 13, 2021 Technical Interviews
- August 16, 2021 – October 15, 2021 Formal Onboarding
For more information on requirements and the onboarding process, visit FAA.gov.