Hobbyist drone flyers must abide by a large and sometimes confusing set of rules about where they can and can’t fly. Applications like Airmap and Kittyhawk have become indispensable tools for planning legal flight paths. However, flying near airports and many other types of infrastructure has required a cumbersome process of notification by telephone or manual requests for approval — until now. As of this week, the FAA has opened up the LAANC system (Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability) to recreational flyers. Currently, 591 US airports support LAANC, with more being added.
The need for extending the LAANC system to hobbyists was made more critical with the recent changes to FAA regulations, which now require active approval in cases that before only required notification. If nothing else, swamping air traffic controllers and airport personnel with phone calls every time someone wants to fly a drone nearby isn’t an efficient use of anyone’s time.
Requesting Authorization Using LAANC
The process for getting authorization starts by creating a flight plan in an app like Airmap or Kittyhawk; both are free to recreational users, and both also offer a web interface in addition to mobile apps. If the flight plan includes flying near an airport that supports LAANC, you’ll be offered the option to request clearance when you finalize the flight.
You’ll need to supply the make, model, and weight of your drone, along with the altitude you’re planning, your name, and a phone number where the airport can send you a text message if they need to. Altitude does matter, as depending on where you want to fly, automated approval may only be available at lower altitudes than the maximum 400 feet.
Being a bit skeptical after a lot of previous promises of this type of capability, I decided to try it for myself. I created a simple flight plan near San Francisco International Airport (SFO) in Airmap on the web. The first time I submitted it was rejected as I hadn’t realized I needed to add a phone number. Once I added that, the request was approved nearly instantaneously. I picked SFO because our smaller, local airports show that they don’t yet have an automated approval system in place.
A Note About Drone Flight Planning
Using a map that shows airspace restrictions is an essential part of responsible drone flying. Even if you know you’re aren’t near an airport, power plant, or other critical infrastructure, an app like Airmap or Kittyhawk will alert you to Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) caused by emergency responders, fires, police actions, or other transient events. Personally, I’ve found Airmap supports detailed maps not just here in the US, but when I’ve been flying my drone overseas as well.