By Peter Sachs, FAA Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office
Drone pilots will have even more options than before when they seek permission to fly in controlled airspace this fall. The Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability, or LAANC, is getting a big enhancement that will enable drone pilots to operate in even more low-level airspace than before — and to know that they’re doing it safely.
Currently, the FAA divides the airspace around nearly 750 Class B, C, D, and E airports into grids that are each about one square mile. Each grid cell has a maximum safe UAS (unmanned aircraft system, or drone) operating altitude, on which FAA air traffic facility staff, controllers, and managers collaborate to determine. This is the highest altitude that is deemed safe for UAS to operate within each cell with an automatic approval through LAANC. These altitudes can range from zero (no flights allowed without further coordination, such as in areas above and immediately adjacent to airports) to 400 feet above ground level (AGL). The grouping of these grid cells comprises the UAS Facility Map, or UASFM, for a volume of controlled airspace. “The FAA is calling the enhancement ‘Quad Grid,’ explains LAANC Project Lead, Victoria Gallagher.
“This has the potential to open up literally hundreds of square miles of airspace to drone pilots across the National Airspace System (NAS), without impacting the safety of operations for crewed aircraft,” says Gallagher.