FAA Expands Drone Access To Airspace

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The FAA is expanding a program that will provide “near real-time” processing of requests for access to controlled airspace from drone operators, the agency said on Tuesday. A prototype system that was deployed last November has performed successfully, the FAA said, and the agency will now conduct a nationwide beta test, beginning April 30, that will deploy the system incrementally at nearly 300 air traffic facilities, serving about 500 airports. The final deployment will begin Sept. 13. The announcement was made by FAA Acting Administrator Dan Elwell, at the third annual UAS Symposium, held in Baltimore.

Under the FAA’s Part 107 small drone rule, operators must secure approval from the agency to operate in any airspace controlled by an air traffic facility. The manual application process required 19 steps for operators. To facilitate those approvals, the agency developed the prototype Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC)to evaluate the feasibility of a fully automated solution enabled by data sharing. The system was deployed at several air traffic facilities last November. Trials showed the new system “dramatically decreases the wait experienced using the manual authorization process and allows operators to quickly plan their flights,” the FAA said. Air traffic controllers also will be able to see where the planned drone operations will take place. The system is intended for use by professional drone operators. Hobbyists and recreational operators are still required to notify airport operators and the ATC facility (if present) prior to operating within 5 miles of an airport, the FAA said.