Only a paltry 20-30% of drone flights are LAANC compliant, study finds

Drones aren’t supposed to fly in controlled U.S. airspace without permission. So when the Federal Aviation Administration rolled out an easier way to gain permission to fly in controlled airspace versus the old, clunky physical-paperwork model, compliance should theoretically be higher. But it seems that only about a quarter of overall drone flights in the U.S. are actually LAANC compliant.

While there’s no way to dive into an alternate LAANC-free universe and find out what would have happened, the current LAANC model results in abysmally-low compliance. That’s at least according to a fresh report from LAANC service supplier Aloft, which conducted a study to better understand LAANC-compliance rates. And their study found that only an estimated 20-30% of drone flights in controlled airspace actually have LAANC authorization.

LAANC is short for ‘Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability.’ With LAANC, FAA-approved service providers like Aloft can issue near real-time approval to fly in many types of controlled airspace to most of its users. It’s a fairly simple process. Download the app of your service provider of choice, register an account, and input your flight plans. Prior to LAANC, permission was relatively difficult to get, requiring time and paperwork.

How LAANC found those wildly-low compliance numbers

To estimate the compliance rate, Aloft acquired radar data for drone detection around a few sample airports to have a better understanding of how many drone flights are actually happening. Using that as a denominator, Aloft then used its own number of airspace authorizations and normalized the numbers to account for its market share to then estimate how many flights were compliant.

Graphic courtesy of Aloft

The airports analyzed were Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Las Vegas McCarran Airport (LAS). Interestingly, data was collected over three different 3-month periods (May through July 2021, December 2021 through February 2022, and May through July 2022) to understand if trends got better or worse. Perhaps people hadn’t yet understood the laws back in 2021, so compliance might have been worse back in 2021 versus what it is today.

At Washington D.C.’s airport, it turns out the opposite; compliance got worse in 2022 versus the same period in 2021. Happy, compliance got slightly better at Las Vegas, though it started from a lower rate of compliance. No matter how you slice it, compliance is abysmally low among all time periods and at all airports.

How do we ensure more LAANC compliant drone flights?

So few LAANC compliant drone flights is not exactly positive news. Aloft says it shared its findings with the FAA. And since Aloft chairs the Drone Safety Team Data Working Group, the data has also been shared there.

Aloft said ways to improve LAANC compliance might include not just more education and outreach, but also more technology improvements for the LAANC program.

What to know about Aloft

Aloft, which ran the study, is a company formerly known as Kittyhawk, although it underwent a rebranding and got a new name in early summer 2021. Aloft says that — this month alone — it has powered more than 37,000 LAANC airspace requests across recreational, commercial, and government users. That’s about 84% of the 43,000 total LAANC requests the FAA received in September, meaning Aloft has a major influence over LAANC approvals.

Aloft (then Kittyhawk) has been supplying LAANC airspace authorizations for about four years now. And besides issuing near-real-time airspace authorizations, the company also makes other software to help with daily drone operations. The company recently released the FAA’s v6 LAANC upgrade, which is already available in all Aloft Air Control web and mobile applications.

It’s also improved its Air Control software with new web tools for LAANC to edit, duplicate, print, sort, and export. And its Aloft Geo software provides some exclusive safety data from sources like NASA, NOAA, Pennsylvania DOT, and the FAA that is designed to provide a more complete picture of what else is happening in the skies.

What are your thoughts on ways to improve the rate of LAANC compliant flights? Does it even matter? Leave a comment below!


  • Bill says:

    Firmware update: No LAANC Authorization in controlled airspace = No Takeoff

  • adorsai
    Andrew says:

    laws like this one will never get the public’s support, simply because people feel they’re oppressively as well as un-needed. Statistics have shown that the number of incidents which have resulted in major, or even minor damage to aircraft is so low as to be almost insignificant. Bird strikes, collisions between registered aircraft and pilot errors during landings lead to far higher numbers of fatal accidents than hits by small drones.

  • Joel says:

    While Andrew is correct about UAS incidents being involved with a very small number of aircraft to aircraft incidents, I believe that flight authorizations for drones is significant and important to aviation safety especially with the large projected growth in the number of drones in the next few years. Most pilots don’t question their need for ATC clearance for piloted flight in controlled airspace and this helps to make our flight environment safer. I believe the same will be increasingly important for UAS flights.

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