This article is an update to the FAA’s Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability article posted in Directions in June 2018. This article takes a look at changes in LAANC and third-party LAANC suppliers, and includes my prediction for which solution will be the front-runner in the near future.
LAANC is an FAA web app that provides near real-time authorization to conduct unmanned aerial vechicle flights in controlled airspace. It covers 600 U.S. airports, soon to be 900, and presently is only available to about 135,000 drone service providers who hold a commercial Small UAS Regulations (Part 107) certificate. From November 2017 to May of 2019, the FAA processed more than 110,000 LAANC authorization requests through FAADroneZone.
The FAA Facilities Map is part of the LAANC system and enables UAV operators to easily locate LAANC-enabled airports, understand the airspace classification, determine the latitude/longitude of the proposed flight location, and view altitude restrictions. It is a collaborative effort between the FAA and the approved organizations which, by exchanging data with the FAA, have developed their own maps and LAANC applications.
The biggest change to LAANC is that it soon will be available to approximately 1,200,000 recreational drone operators on July 23, 2019. This is a huge increase in LAANC activity and an industry game changer because it shifts dominant use of LAANC from commercial drone operators to recreational flyers. This change significantly impacts the amount of web traffic the FAA will experience, and it also will likely affect the third-party organizations that the FAA has approved to provide LAANC authorizations.
The following is a review of the current applications along with my prediction of who has, or will have, the best LAANC solution.
FAADroneZone is the FAA’s own web application for issuing LAANC authorizations and waivers. It is a simple, fast, and free solution. Once you register, login, and start the authorization process, you will need to know the latitude/longitude, the airspace classification, nearest airport, and date and time of operation. Most of this information is available from the Facilities Map but the two solutions are not integrated; one must get this information from the Facilities Map before starting the authorization process. The status of each request can be viewed on the FAADroneZone Part 107 Dashboard as: Approved, Cancelled, Denied, Expired, and Under Review.
AirMap is one of the few LAANC providers that offer both web and mobile applications. Their map, integrated into the AirMap solution, not only illustrates controlled airspace, but also shows the location of other features such as schools and hospitals. It works with other applications like DroneDeploy, provides weather advisories, links to the DJI controller, and provides a developer platform. This is an excellent LAANC application that provides many additional features. It is free, fast, and easy to use.
Aeronyde is a free, easy-to-use web solution from a startup based in Melbourne, Fla. Users can select a satellite or terrain map, check the current weather conditions, and find Temporary Flight Restrictions and Notices to Airmen.
The company is also building an unmanned traffic management system using artificial intelligence and augmented reality.
Converge, a startup based in San Francisco, has developed a paid web app, Control Tower, that is priced by the number of users. LAANC authorizations seem to be a small part of their solution. Their website indicates they do inspections, mapping, photo management, reports, geofencing, and a host of other UAV tasks.
Kittyhawk is a free mobile LAANC solution that also provides access to TFRs, NOTAMs, and airspace restrictions. They have modified their airspace grid map with Xs to indicate non-LAANC-enabled airports. Kittyhawk also provides enterprise solutions for fleet management, flight logging, checklists, and asset tracking. The FAA is currently partnering with Kittyhawk to update the FAA’s B4UFly app.
Skyward, like AirMap, offers both web and mobile solutions. The application is free and was developed by Verizon. Users can draw a flight area, add POI’s, mark flight hazards, import KLM files, and create flight checklists. Their app also syncs flights with the DJI GO app, logs flights from DroneDeploy, and displays battery status. Skyward also sells VFR sectionals charts.
UASidekick is a $4.95-per-month, paid mobile app for both Android and iOS with a 4-star rating in Apple’s App Store. This is the only LAANC app connected to Flight Service; it enables UAV operators to inform manned aircraft of their intent to operate in a specific area, notify other UASidekick users of possible search and rescue needs, and provides weather information.
And the best LAANC app is...the user interface you like best.
The actual process of submitting a LAANC authorization request is pretty much the same regardless of which application is used. A user needs to enter the same data: flight time, date, duration, altitude, location, airport, and airspace classification. It therefore comes down to which user interface you like best. The FAA hasn’t published statistics on the most popular LAANC application, but it would seem AirMap, Skyward, and Kittyhawk are the front-runners.
However, things will change when the 1,200,000 registered hobbyists are also using LAANC. DJI has not yet released their application, but according to SkyLogic and other research organizations, they have about 75% market share. Considering the number of registered recreational operators and DJI’s market dominance, it is difficult to imagine their LAANC application, when available, won’t become the de facto standard.