With LAANC, the FAA is silencing its critics over its ability to innovate

Regulators continue to scramble in an effort to address the widespread uptake of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), while different regions begin to realise their operational and economic potential. Whether it be for commercial purposes or recreation, UAS are here to stay.


Summary:

  • Regulators continue to scramble in an effort to address the widespread uptake of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS);
  • The danger to civil aviation posed by drones is well documented, although often dramatised;
  • The United States regulator, the FAA, has silenced critics of its ability to innovate with the introduction of the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC);
  • A “first of its kind” UAS traffic management (UTM) corridor in central New York will test both drones and air traffic management technologies in real world settings.

The danger to civil aviation posed by drones is often well documented, and although sometimes dramatised, the threat the technology places on civil aviation is undeniable. But in a recent display in how far drone technology has come, Chinese UAS technology company EHANG autonomously operated over 1300 drones at one time on 01-May-2018.

In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration has silenced critics of its ability to innovate with the introduction of the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC). The FAA refers to LAANC as a direct collaboration with the industry, and in many ways, it certainly is just that.

With LAANC, drone operators can apply to receive near real time authorisation for operations near airports and can request to fly above the designated altitude ceiling in a UAS Facility Map. Applicants may apply up to 90 days in advance of a flight. Requests are autonomously checked against airspace data in the FAA UAS Data Exchange.

In terms of industry collaboration, the FAA has approved drone technology and software suppliers AirMap, Skyward, Project Wing and Rockwell Collins to directly authorise airspace requests by drone operators. Additionally, AirMap’s ‘Deep Linking’ platform allows developers and manufacturers to integrate LAANC into their own apps. This form collaboration assures the FAA still has control over the integration of drones into US airspace, however the project is still able to leverage the expertise of private companies.

As of late Apr-2018, the FAA is phasing a nationwide beta test of LAANC, that will deploy the system incrementally at nearly 300 air traffic facilities covering around 500 airports. In its first phase prior to the nationwide beta, the LAANC system processed more than 3500 requests, with 90% of these in real time.

The FAA’s LAANC project shows integration of drones into low airspace, on a federal level, is in fact possible. But how are local US governments supporting this push towards adoption?

The Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance is supported by the state of New York. Recently, Governor Andrew Cuomo selected commercial partners to support the Alliance, which ultimately aims to create a UAS traffic management (UTM) corridor in central New York. The corridor will be a nucleus of drone R&D and will even explore beyond visual line of sight operations, which are largely regarded as a key determinant of the economic value commercial drones will bring.

Running 80km west from Griffiss International Airport, which is one of only seven Federal Aviation Administration-approved unmanned aircraft systems test sites in America, Mr Cuomo has claimed the corridor will be the “first of its kind”. The project boasts a range of commercial partners including global defence and technology industry heavyweight Raytheon.

The state is hopeful that the corridor will allow companies to test both drones and air traffic management technologies in real world settings, generating valuable data that will inform industry and regulators and ultimately advance the commercial use of drones.

“UASs are playing an increasingly important role in our society, which means we must have low altitude air traffic management solutions,” says Matt Gilligan, VP of Raytheon’s Navigation, Weather and Services mission area. “The New York airspace corridor is the first of its kind, but it won’t be the last.”