drone at airport (Shutterstock.com)

FAA expands authorization tests for low-altitude drones

Starting at the end of April, the Federal Aviation Administration will roll out tests of its near-real-time authorization processing system for unmanned aerial systems and will add more mapping providers to the effort.


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At the agency's 3rd Annual UAS Symposium, Acting Administrator Dan Elwell told a gathering of unmanned aircraft operators that the FAA will expand its Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) into a nationwide beta test.

The test at 300 air traffic control centers across the country,  which serve 500 airports,  will evaluate how the automated processing system data sharing functions will work. The test begins April 30. FAA regulations require unmanned system operators flying aircraft at lower altitudes in airspace controlled by an agency air traffic control facility to get formal permission before such operations.With the explosion of commercial drone technology and applications, the agency has been buried under a backlog of thousands of commercial applications. The LAANC effort fully automates that authorization process in near real-time, according to the FAA, which the agency said will "dramatically" decrease wait times compared to the manual process. Additionally, air traffic controllers would be able to actually see where drones have planned operations.

LAANC data exchange services are currently provided by four vendors -- AirMap, Project Wing, Rockwell Collins and Skyward -- but the FAA said it will consider agreements with additional entities starting April 16.

The FAA launched a prototype low-altitude test last fall at eight regional air traffic control facilities, as it accelerated plans to integrate drones into the national airspace.

In an Oct. 23 memo, President Donald Trump called for an UAS Integration Pilot Program to go live in 90 days to set test zones and build regulatory framework to get commercial drones, such as those that deliver medicine, inspect critical infrastructure, monitor emergencies and other applications into the U.S. airspace more effectively.

This article was first posted on FCW, a sibling site to GCN. 

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

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