Skyward recently updated its drone airspace intelligence map. We overhauled the map design and put a whole lot more information at your fingertips. This includes vertical obstacle data, power lines, pedestrian pathways, airport runways, and 3D views of buildings and structures.
Customers have been loving the updated Skyward experience. Two Skyward customers, one in Los Angeles and one in Honolulu, told me that 3D mode has been a game changer for drone ops in urban areas. Another customer in the utility industry told me that seeing power lines on the map has helped them plan operations or inspections more accurately.
But all this change means the workflow is a little different. And understandably, that brings some questions. So I’d like to answer a few of the questions I’ve heard the most from customers over the last few weeks.
1. Why did the colors on the drone airspace map change? What do they mean?
Our biggest change was the map design. Skyward’s creative director gave a great interview about those design changes, but here are the basics.
We wanted our color scheme to clearly reflect the types of airspace.
- Red for TFRs and other restricted airspace where you most likely can’t fly
- Orange for controlled airspace where LAANC isn’t available, meaning you’ll need special permission
- Blue for LAANC-enabled controlled airspace, with access available in Skyward
- Yellow for advisory airspace over areas like hospitals, schools, and state parks
We chose the new color scheme with accessibility in mind. Even pilots or managers with colorblindness should be able to quickly see the different types of airspace on our map.
On top of that, our four map layers look awesome. Satellite, dark, and terrain layers provide clean views of essential information. And for our Business and Enterprise subscribers, the VFR layer provides in-depth airspace information.
2. Why do LAANC grids look different on Skyward’s drone airspace map?
We simplified LAANC grids in Skyward by merging adjacent grids of the same height. We even indicate that height by shading — the darker the shade, the lower the maximum altitude. That way, a quick glance can clue you in to how high you can fly. It’s a cleaner look for complicated pieces of airspace, and our customers love it, too.
We also recently added LAANC functionality to InFlight, our mobile GCS. You can instantly submit airspace access requests from the field — or even cancel grids you won’t need. It’s so intuitive that even people new to Skyward can be easily brought up to speed.
Simplicity is a huge advantage when you need to get into the air quickly. For example, drone pilots in news media may need to deploy at a moment’s notice. They can quickly check airspace and request LAANC access. They can note obstacles and see if there might be foot traffic beneath their flight area. And they can do it all in the truck on the way to breaking news.
3. Does Skyward’s drone airspace map include TFRs? How often does it update?
Skyward sources U.S. airspace information directly from the FAA. We use an API to bring the data into our map. That means we’re able to update Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) information every 15 minutes, and all other airspace information every hour. Skyward’s airspace map includes both active and upcoming temporary flight restrictions. They appear as red shapes on the map.
It’s extremely important for drone pilots to check for TFRs before each flight. TFRs can pop up suddenly, and flying in one can land you in a lot of trouble. As an example, TFRs were created over wildfires in California this year to protect firefighting aircraft. In spite of this, illegally flown drones forced firefighting aircraft to be grounded, delaying emergency response efforts. Interfering with firefighting aircraft is a federal crime, with huge fines and possible jail time.
Skyward’s airspace map can help you avoid this kind of situation. (And a bonus pro tip: FAA regulations require drones to yield to manned aviation, regardless of whether there’s a TFR. So if there’s a plane headed toward your drone, be sure to get out of the way!)
4. Where does Skyward’s ground data come from? How accurate is it?
As mentioned above, our U.S. airspace data comes directly from the FAA. The FAA also provides locations of airports, stadiums, and LAANC facilities. The rest of Skyward’s map data comes from a variety of sources.
Mapbox provides Skyward’s map with airport runways, terrain elevation, 3D views of buildings and structures, and many other data points. And this information updates very frequently. With over 600 million users per month, Mapbox is one of the most popular tools for building map-based apps on the market.
Other street-level information such as schools, hospitals, and walking paths is based on OpenStreetMap, a global source of geographic data built by volunteers. Open sourcing means the data is updated rapidly and highly accurate — though it also means we can’t guarantee it’s 100% accurate all the time. Remember, flight planning in Skyward is an important step, but it can’t replace an on-site pre-flight assessment.
Skyward’s vertical obstacle data comes from the FAA and FCC. It’s updated about every four weeks. While this obstacle data is a helpful resource, it obviously doesn’t include every obstacle that might hinder your drone flight. That means it shouldn’t be used for aircraft navigation.
You can find out more about Skyward’s data sources at the Map Data page of the Skyward User Guide.
5. When will LAANC be available in my area? Will it be available in Skyward?
Skyward is an FAA-approved airspace vendor, meaning drone operators can gain automated access to controlled airspace through our platform. LAANC is live at nearly 600 airports across the U.S. All of them are available in Skyward’s cloud and mobile apps.
Unfortunately, Skyward has no control over when an airport turns LAANC on or off. The FAA can turn a LAANC grid off at any time, for any reason. And some airports aren’t LAANC-ready yet.
That said, LAANC grids will be live in Skyward as soon as they’re activated. In fact, LAANC was just turned on around four new major airports. In these areas, you can use Skyward to request airspace authorizations in seconds.
Want to find out if LAANC is available in your area? Check out this PDF from Skyward.
Skyward’s drone operations management platform
The updates to the airspace map have made it even more intuitive. In fact, I’m getting fewer questions from customers about how the map works than I used to. And we keep working to make it better all the time.
I encourage you to get a demo of Skyward and see how we can help your drone operations.