An exciting milestone has been hit in the drone airspace authorization world. The Federal Aviation Administration announced that over the past week, it had issued its millionth drone airspace authorization.
The authorizations are formally issued through a program called LAANC, which stands for Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability. Designed to more efficiently grant approvals to drone pilots flying in airspace that’s considered busier or slightly higher risk, LAANC automates the process for drone pilots to gain authorization to fly in such airspace (typically below 400 feet in controlled airspace, such as Class B or C airspace).
When drone pilots submit a request, air traffic controllers and other related professionals gain awareness of where drones — whether commercial or recreational — may be operating. To submit that request, you’ll have to go through any of the FAA-Approved LAANC Service Suppliers, many of which are third-party smartphone apps such as Aloft, to submit your request. Requests can be submitted as early as 90 days ahead of your flight, though they can often be submitted the day of, as requests are typically approved nearly instantly.
The LAANC program began as a prototype in 2017 before first launching on a limited scale back in 2018 in response to the FAA’s Part 107 drone regulations, which requires drone operators to secure approval from the FAA to operate in any airspace controlled by an air traffic facility. It expanded to recreational pilots in 2019. These days, the LAANC system now covers 542 air traffic facilities serving approximately 735 airports. The FAA estimates that LAANC currently covers 80 percent of controlled National Airspace at 400 feet or below.
Prior to the 2018 launch, all airspace authorizations were done manually, which was an onerous, paperwork-ridden process that often took drone pilots weeks to get approved — which was not only inefficient, but prohibitive for many important drone use cases such as disaster response.
“This system has allowed drone pilots to gain timely access to busy airspace without sacrificing safety,” said Teri L. Bristol, the chief operating officer of the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization. “We are grateful to everyone who helped us reach this milestone safely.”
And the one million milestone is only expected to grow. The FAA is regularly seeking more LAANC service suppliers, and in 2020 added an important one in the world of hobby drone pilots thanks to LAANC software from the Academy of Model Aeronautics. Other free LAANC software includes DroneUp Airspace Planner, AirMap and Aloft. Aloft is one of the biggest suppliers of drone airspace authorization. The San Francisco-based startup also known as the brains behind the FAA’s B4UFLY app said that its platform powered 70% of the monthly LAANC authorization requests to the FAA in September 2021.