Answers to Your Questions about LAANC & Skyward

Director of Strategy at Skyward

It’s been an exciting week here at Skyward, and for the U.S. drone community as a whole. The FAA officially rolled out LAANC today, and several of our customers are beta testing access through Skyward this afternoon.

Over the past week, we’ve seen a lot of questions on social media regarding LAANC, and even some misinformation. I thought it would be most efficient to create an FAQ with all the facts. We’ll be updating this as we get updated information from the FAA and as new questions arise from our customers.

Q: What is LAANC?

LAANC is the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability. It enables businesses to access airspace that previously required the submission of a manual request for authorization, and it automates the approval process, reducing the wait time from 60-90 days or more to seconds.

Q: How much does LAANC cost?

When we roll out our new LAANC feature, every free and paid Skyward subscriber will have access to automated LAANC authorizations.

Q: In the past, how have drone pilots gotten approval to fly in class C or B airspace? Didn’t they just have to coordinate with ATC?

Commercial operators must manually apply for a waiver to access controlled airspace. This process is taking two to three months for approval and has been a major pain point for businesses and enterprises trying to deploy drones. Now, after planning an operation in Skyward near a LAANC-accessible airport, our customers can get approval in just two clicks.

Q: Who developed LAANC?

LAANC was developed by the FAA in partnership with a working group comprising 12 companies. Skyward was included in this and was the first of the 12 to be approved by the FAA.

Q: How did Skyward become an approved vendor?

We responded to the public request for information that the FAA published last September; based on our proposal, Skyward was selected for participation in the working group. We then participated in the development and deployment with the FAA, culminating in an onboarding process that will continue to evolve.

Q: Who are the other vendors?

The FAA selected 12 companies to serve on the working group. The FAA has not published the list of companies that participated. However, the FAA is maintaining a public list of the companies that have been approved (under the heading Approved LAANC UAS Service Suppliers).  

Q: How will LAANC help operators?

The old system, still in use, requires a manual waiver process, and it typically takes a minimum of 60 days for operators to get approved waivers from the FAA. This is a logistics challenge for Skyward’s enterprise customers that are using drones as a tool for business. With LAANC, this 60-90 day process turns to seconds. Businesses can request access through Skyward after planning their flight and get approval in just two clicks.

Q: How does this work for airports that don’t have reported grids?

Most airports won’t have LAANC-accessible airports this year—only the 49 listed by the FAA. If an airport doesn’t have a UASFM grid, or if the grid entirely comprises 0 ft AGL airspace volumes, LAANC won’t work, though we don’t expect there to be many airports like that.

Q: What’s next?

The FAA will continue to roll out additional airports into 2018. The first airports are Cincinnati International, San Jose, Reno, and Lincoln with more to follow in the coming weeks and months. The FAA intends to have the program implementation complete by early 2018.

Q: What goes into giving the operator near real-time approval? In what instances wouldn’t they get approval?

To submit an operation for LAANC approval, it must contain the following:

  • An assigned Pilot-in-Command
  • Pilot phone number
  • Start and end date that is within the next 90 days
  • Start and end times comprising a window of less than 12 hours
  • No 0 altitude grids in the area of operation

Skyward LAANC access requires a user’s planned operation to have each of those items in order to submit a request.

 

Q: Can you provide details on the approval process with the FAA?

The process involved meetings over the course of a year in which Skyward and the 11 other members helped to define the program, agreeing to a memorandum of understanding outlining the rules for the LAANC program, and demonstrating that the software we built met those requirements.

Q: How does the implementation of LAANC affect authorization of flights BVLOS?

Companies seeking to fly beyond visual line of site must still apply for a waiver from the FAA. LAANC will give quick access to some areas of controlled airspace but it will not waive other areas of Part 107. Once LAANC is fully implemented, the hope is that it will reduce the number of controlled airspace waiver requests significantly and allow the FAA to focus on waiver requests for BVLOS, night flights, flights over people, and others.

Q: Does the implementation of LAANC require an update to Part 107?

No, commercial drone pilots that apply for quick access to controlled airspace with LAANC must still abide by the rules of Part 107. Certain areas of controlled airspace are not accessible through LAANC and many have varying altitude limits (often lower than 400 feet).

Q: What industries will benefit most from LAANC’s faster authorization process?

Many of our customers cite airspace access as one of their largest pain points because most major metropolitan areas overlap with parts of controlled airspace. We expect industries like broadcast media and commercial construction to see tremendous benefit by using Skyward to get automated access to controlled airspace with LAANC. The current manual process takes at least 60-90 days to get approval, and that just doesn’t work when you’re trying to adhere to a construction schedule or cover a breaking news story.

Q: And how does this play into the FAA’s plan to eventually roll out LAANC around 50 different airports? Is this announcement building towards that?

There are eight air traffic facilities and 49 airports participating in the prototype evaluation that began on October 23. The lessons learned during the prototype evaluation period will be applied to the national beta test which will launch in early 2018. A significant expansion of the number of participating airports is expected with the start of the beta .