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How the FAA’s LAANC Helps Commercial Drone Programs

Since last August, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)—through a new ruling in its Small Unmanned Aircraft Regulations (Part 107)—has lowered the barrier to entry for businesses launching commercial drone operations.

But the ruling also has created new challenges, especially for companies that were already running fairly sophisticated operations. As organizations such as NASA work with the industry to develop a truly digital, automated system for UAS traffic management, an innovation that is still a few years out, the FAA is working on a way to give drone operators more access to the airspace. The Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability system (LAANC—pronounced “lance”) provides commercial operators—and drone airspace map providers—with pre-approved flight zones and maximum altitudes for operating drones near airports.

LAANC enables drone operators to access airspace that previously required a waiver, and it automates the waiver application process, significantly reducing the wait time for approvals.

To get the latest on this development, Construction Executive interviewed Matt Fanelli, director of strategy for Skyward, a Verizon Company, who has participated in in-person meetings and calls with the FAA and other members, including Amazon, Thales and Boeing.

As one of 12 members of the LAANC working group, Skyward helped to develop this capability as an essential method to help its customers operate efficiently and safely. Skyward also collaborated with SunPower, the first company in the United States to receive automated approval through LAANC to use drone technology to aerially evaluate potential project sites and enable it to efficiently generate solar power plant system layouts that optimize site use and reduce costs.

Q: What can a company with a large drone operation (say, dozens of drones and pilots) expect in terms of new processes when LAANC is released?

The benefit of LAANC will be that operators won’t have to go through that lengthy waiver process anymore. Soon, within Skyward, the operator will instead be able to view LAANC airspace, provide a minimal amount of information and be granted near real-time access to fly up to the FAA’s altitude limit for a given volume of airspace.

One important note is that the waiver-and-authorization process is still there. If you know you’re going to fly frequently in a given location, you should still apply for an airspace authorization. It’ll give you more airspace access and for a longer period of time. In that case, you might not want to use LAANC.

Q: What will LAANC mean for Skyward users?

We already encourage our customers to use the Skyward airspace map to check the airspace ahead of time, draw a flight area and coordinate with the local ATC. But LAANC allows users to collapse these activities into one simple workflow within Skyward. Experienced users have no friction in being able to plan operations in these types of locations. They’ll simply request access to that airspace for a certain duration at a defined altitude.

You can request for a day and time window, so if you have a multi-day operation, you may have to submit separate LAANC requests for each day.

Q: What about companies that are just beginning to launch a drone pilot program? Will LAANC lower barriers to entry for them?

For companies based in urban areas with several airports, seeing all that controlled airspace can be off-putting, especially given the wait time for airspace authorization that we in the industry have experienced so far.

Having an easy, efficient way to access some of that airspace makes adoption much smoother for companies that don’t have the resources to engage in time-consuming processes.

Q: How has Skyward been involved in shaping LAANC?

One of our goals from the outset was to protect our customers’ privacy. We believe that LAANC is an important step forward for the drone industry in the United States—but it shouldn’t come at the expense of our customers’ and their pilots’ private information. So we’ve advocated for a limited scope of information sharing—just enough for flight deconfliction, but no more.

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