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FAA Opens LAANC to New Suppliers

BY Zacc Dukowitz
12 April 2018

Recently the FAA announced that they’re going to be opening the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) up to new suppliers.

In addition, the FAA also shared the news that, starting in late April, LAANC will be available in nearly 300 air traffic control facilities, representing about 500 airports, and about 78,000 miles of airspace.

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This news comes just one month after the announcement of an aggressive timeline to release LAANC throughout the U.S. over the next year, and indicates a strong push from the FAA to move things forward for the drone industry.

But opening up LAANC to new suppliers does more than indicate forward progress—it’s also a clear step toward leveling the playing field.

In the past, the FAA has received criticism for starting to resemble an old boys club, in which only certain companies get access to provide key services like LAANC.

Opening LAANC up means that this criticism, at least when it comes to instant airspace authorizations, will no longer be applicable. And this is an intentional move from the new FAA Administrator Dan Elwell.

We want to enable technology and remove barriers, so that’s why we’re simplifying the authorization process. If you’re in the drone business, this is a great opportunity for you.

– FAA Acting Administrator Dan Elwell

What Is LAANC?

According to the FAA, LAANC, “enables drone pilots access to controlled airspace near airports through near real-time processing of airspace authorizations below approved altitudes in controlled airspace.”

In brief, LAANC (pronounced “LANCE”) makes instant airspace authorizations possible by using UAS facility map data that show the maximum altitude around airports where the FAA may automatically authorize UAS operations under the Part 107 rules.

The current process in most locations for pursuing airspace authorization is to apply manually, and then wait up to 90 days. LAANC represents a huge step forward for the drone industry because it gives drone pilots immediate permission to fly in areas that previously required some kind of wait.

This wait time often means the loss of potential clients, and a great deal of uncertainty when it comes to running a drone services business—but now those wait times will be reduced to zero in those areas where LAANC becomes available.

How Can Companies Become LAANC Suppliers?

The FAA is opening up LAANC to new suppliers and highlights that the application is a standard government acquisition—meaning there is no traditional Screening Information Request (SIR) or Request for Proposal (RFP) involved. Yet to the many potential applicants unfamiliar with governmental processes like this, becoming a LAANC supplier isn’t as easy as it might initially appear to be.

The first application window opens next week, on April 16, and will remain open for one month, until May 16. There will be two windows a year, each one month long, in which companies can apply.

According to the FAA’s onboarding overview document, the application and review process will take five months, with two months allotted for reviews and interviews, and two months for onboarding. (You can see the details of the application timeline here on the FAA’s website.)

FAA LAANC new suppliers

Given how involved the process is, we are left wondering who will feel like it’s worth it to apply.

AirMap has been partnering with companies like DroneBase and others to provide LAANC access, thus allowing these companies to provide instant airspace authorizations to their users through their own apps without having to go through a rigorous application process, or devote any funds to building a new platform.

So who will feel like it’s worth the time and money?

Perhaps a few high-end drone services companies that work with big customers, but in those cases it doesn’t seem likely that they’re going to build their own app. Rather, they’ll use LAANC access to support their projects, instead of investing money in technology that can be used by everyone.

But who knows? It could be that Kittyhawk or other drone ops management tools may want to throw their hats in the ring as well. All we can say for certain right now is that 2018 is shaping up to be an exciting year for the drone industry.

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