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How the FAA Chose Nine New LAANC Service Suppliers including DJI

BY Isabella Lee
3 October 2018

On October 1, 2018, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced nine new partners to its Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) initiative. LAANC provides near real-time processing of airspace authorizations for Part 107 drone operators nationwide.

LAANC Service Suppliers

The New LAANC Suppliers

The nine new LAANC suppliers are Aeronyde, Airbus, AiRXOS, Altitude Angel, Converge, DJI, KittyHawk, UASidekick and Unifly.

These new additions fit our prediction back in April 2018 that mostly “high-end” drone service companies would join LAANC. Kittyhawk was another drone ops management tool we predicted would join the FAA data exchange program. The nine new suppliers join five companies—AirMap, Harris Corp., Project Wing, Skyward and Thales Group—that have already met the technical and legal requirements to provide LAANC services.

The new supplier we expect drone pilots to be most excited about is DJI. As the world’s leader in civilian drones and aerial imaging technology, DJI products account for 74% of global drone market sales. Soon, DJI users will be able to apply for LAANC approvals seamlessly through their DJI account.

DJI has always led the industry in helping open America’s skies for productive small drone flights while keeping safety as the top priority, and offering LAANC capability to our customers is another example of our dedication to meeting their needs.

—Brendan Schulman, DJI Vice President of Policy & Legal Affairs.

With 14 total LAANC service suppliers, more airspace will open up for professional pilots. Part 107 drone pilots can receive fast airspace authorization to fly in controlled airspace under 400 feet from their LAANC supplier of choice.

How to Become a LAANC Supplier

In April 2018, the FAA announced that they were going to open LAANC to new suppliers. Following the FAA’s successful prototype, the initiative was simultaneously opened to additional air traffic control facilities and to new industry partners. The application period ran from April 16 to May 16, 2018. The next opportunity for drone service companies to apply to will take place in 2019 from January 7 to March 18. Interested parties can find information on the application process here.

The application process is not run in the same format as a standard government acquisition, which typically requires a Screening Information Request (SIR) or Request for Proposal (RFP). Instead, LAANC applications go through a ten-month onboarding process. This includes an application period, one-month review period, technical interviews, and formal onboarding for entities that make it through each prior step. In the past, onboarding new LAANC suppliers was a five-month process, but in February 2019, the FAA announced an extension of the application period in order to increase participation, bringing the total onboarding process time to 10 months.

The LAANC capability offers industry the opportunity to work with the FAA as they develop a UAS traffic management system. Companies approved to provide LAANC Services are known as Approved UAS Service Suppliers (USS). Let’s take a look at each step of the onboarding process:

Step 1: Application Period

USS onboarding application submission must include:

  • Completed USS Application package
  • Signed Memorandum of Agreement (MOA)

Step 2: FAA Submission Review

The FAA has 30 days to respond whether the applicant meets requirements to continue in the process. During the review, the FAA may ask applicants for additional information based on submitted materials.

Step 3: Technical Interviews

The FAA invites applicants that pass step 2 to demo & discuss their product. If their product meets the USS operating rules they proceed to step 4.

Step 4: Formal Onboarding

Applicants proceed to system integration with the LAANC Automation Platform in a staging environment. The applicants are given two attempts to demonstrate successful execution of validation scenarios to show compliance with the LAANC USS Operating rules. Upon successful completion of all onboarding activities, the FAA will countersign the MOA to complete the onboarding process.

Preparing for a National Airspace UAS Traffic Management System

LAANC is a foundation for developing a national Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management System (UTM). The final wave of LAANC was rolled out in September 2018, and it is now available at nearly 300 FAA air traffic facilities across the country, covering approximately 500 airports. LAANC has provided Part 107 pilots with a streamlined solution to enable real-time automated notification and authorization to fly in controlled airspace—the first step of a UTM system.

With a UTM system in place, beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) operations will become more attainable for certified UAS pilots. The FAA, NASA, and other drone industry players are partnering to develop UTM to support the real-time or near-real-time organization, coordination, and management of primarily low altitude (< 400 ft AGL) UAS operations. These organizations will cooperate to determine and communicate real-time airspace status. Full integration of UAS into the national airspace will be a joint effort between all members of the drone industry and UAS pilots.

The FAA expects that UTM capabilities will be implemented incrementally over the next several years. In the meantime, who is your preferred LAANC service provider? Let us know, and join the conversation about the new LAANC suppliers in this thread on our community forum.

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