If you’ve ever looked at a VFR sectional chart, you know how complex U.S. airspace is. To the untrained eye, the airspace seems like a mess of symbols. Crisscrossing lines show a patchwork of controlled airspace, restricted and prohibited areas, and airport information. And sectional charts don’t even include temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) that show short-term off-limits areas.
As part of earning your Part 107 drone pilot certification, you’ll get a basic understanding how to interpret these charts for drone operations. But even complicated aeronautical charts may not have all the information drone pilots need to safely fly in low altitude environments. Knowing with certainty where you’re allowed to fly is one of the greatest challenges of flying a commercial drone. Drone pilots need a simpler solution that filters out irrelevant information and accounts for ground-level hazards.
That’s where having a drone airspace map designed specifically for UAS operations comes in handy. A drone airspace map helps pilots stay within legal boundaries and follow Part 107 regulations.
VFR sectional chart for the airspace around Chicago, compared with Skyward’s drone airspace map in the same area.
Benefits of a digital drone airspace map
Aeronautical charts are designed as a reference tool for crewed aircraft. They include loads of information that doesn’t apply to uncrewed aircraft like drones.
Quality drone management software keeps things simple. It focuses on giving pilots just the information they need to:
- Stay within 400 feet above ground level
- Steer clear of prohibited areas
- Recognize temporary & permanent flight restricted areas
- Manage access to controlled airspace
Skyward’s airspace intelligence map, for example, combines easy-to-understand airspace information with ground intelligence such as walking paths, power lines, and 3D views of structures. It has flight planning tools built in for efficient workflows and safer flights. Skyward’s map includes light, dark, and satellite map layers — plus a VFR sectional map layer for advanced missions. Skyward also flags current and upcoming temporary flight restrictions such as:
- Stadiums during sporting events
- Security-related events, such as VIP movement
- Emergency and rescue operations, such as wildfires or hurricanes
Using LAANC authorization to fly in controlled airspace
Many operations require you to fly drones in controlled airspace. This used to be a major problem, since most big cities have at least one major airport nearby.
Fortunately, some airspace management solutions, like Skyward’s, now allow you to request LAANC authorization for controlled airspace access. When you submit a request, the information transmitted to the FAA for automated approval. You’ll usually receive a response in seconds.
Further coordination requests on a drone airspace map
When requesting LAANC, some areas only allow you to request permission to fly up to a certain height — for example, up to 100 feet. If your use case requires you to fly higher (up to 400 feet), you can submit a request for “further coordination.” While similar to LAANC, further coordination requests are not automatic. They must be manually reviewed by the FAA, which can take up to 90 days.
Skyward enables drone pilots to submit further coordination requests. These can be sent alongside LAANC requests, along with an explanation of how you will maintain safety during your operation.
Keep your drone flights in compliance with Part 107
Of course, no airspace map is perfect. In addition to the federal Part 107 rules, state and local restrictions may apply, and these may not show up on the map. Always do your homework before deploying. Check on-site conditions before launching your drone, and use a comprehensive set of checklists to make sure you don’t miss anything.
For more insights on Part 107 and what drone pilots need to know about flying in the U.S., download our guide, Navigating Part 107.