Quoting the Bob Dylan song, “The Times They Are a-Changin’ ” when it comes to drones. Now that the cold and snow are behind us, you can expect to see more drones as more individuals become licensed and are seeking to fly in varying airspace around Michigan. Currently in Grand Rapids, the five-mile circumference around the Ford Airport still remains as Class C controlled airspace. Controlled Airspace is a generic term that covers the different classifications of airspace (Class A, B, C, D and E airspace) and defined dimensions within which air traffic control service is provided to Instrument Flight Rules and to Visual Flight Rules flights in accordance with the airspace classification.
Gotta follow the rules:
To fly in that airspace, along with others where restrictions apply, there’s a path to obtain permission from the Federal Aviation Administration. Pilots that have obtained their Part 107 certificates can obtain waivers and authorizations to fly in protected airspace, but currently that process sometimes takes months to get approval.
Under the small unmanned aircraft system, or UAS, rule, pilots or operators planning to fly in controlled airspace under 400 feet must receive an airspace authorization from the FAA. Until recently, this involved a 19-step application process which took from 12 weeks to 9 months, meaning some drone pilots missed filming opportunities because of the wait time.
In the coming months the FAA will be continuing to roll out the low altitude authorization and notification capability, or LAANC. It was tested at several air traffic facilities last November to evaluate the feasibility of a fully automated solution enabled by data sharing.
Based on the prototype’s success, the agency will now conduct a nationwide beta test beginning April 30 that will deploy LAANC in regional steps at nearly 300 air traffic facilities covering approximately 500 airports. West Michigan, part of the Central North USA region will be tested in the last deployment starting September 13.
There’s an app for that!
The FAA is expanding tests of this automated system that will ultimately provide near real-time processing of airspace authorization requests for UAS operators nationwide. This dramatically decreases the wait time experienced with the manual authorization process and allows operators to quickly plan their operation. In September, Michigan pilots will be able to get automatic notification approvals of intended flights to nearby airports.
LAANC uses airspace data provided through UAS facility maps. The maps show the maximum altitude around airports where the FAA may authorize operations under Part 107. LAANC gives drone operators the ability to interact with the maps and provide automatic notification and authorization requests to the FAA.
Approved airspace authorization data allows air traffic controllers to see where planned drone operations will take place. This allows them to mitigate risk by ensuring no other aircraft are operating near the drone. In the event of emergency or unplanned temporary flight restrictions, air traffic control can reach the pilot and ground the drone.
For Michigan, it’s a waiting game
For now drone pilots in Michigan who want to fly in controlled airspace near airports will still have to use the current online approval process to apply for an authorization or wait until the LAANC is available in September.
At Sabo PR, we’re excited about the new upcoming LAANC process and feel that it will streamline the permission and approval process. Last year, we flew our drone dozens of times on behalf of clients – but did miss a couple of opportunities where permission didn’t come quickly enough for a client event. Thankfully just recently, I’ve been granted a waiver for operating in Grand Rapids Class C controlled airspace as long as I follow the UAS facility map height guidelines.
If a company is interested in hiring someone to do drone work, make sure the pilot has his or her FAA part 107 certificate and has the appropriate authorizations/waivers following all laws regarding airspace and privacy. At Sabo PR, we research every flight and use due diligence to mitigate any risk of flying safely. Even though the times may be changing, we are staying on top of the issue – so you don’t have to.