FC LAANC request process might require some further coordination of its own, study finds

“FC”  it stands for further coordination, and it’s a special type of LAANC request for some drone pilots who need to fly higher than what’s legal for everyone else.

But first comes another acronym alert: LAANC. LAANC is short for ‘Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability.’ While pre-LAANC, you had to go through an onerous process to get approval to fly in controlled airspace, such as within five miles of an airport (which can be a surprisingly large radius), LAANC now makes it far easier. You simply download an app from a registered service provider (and most of these apps are free, to boot), register an account, and input your flight plans.  Most flights get near-instant approval to fly in approved airspace.

But there is one specific type of flight that requires further coordination. It’s called an FC LAANC, and it’s available for pilots who have a Remote Pilot Certificate, meaning they have clearance under FAA Part 107 to fly drones for commercial purposes. If you have a Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate, you can put in an FC LAANC request, which enables pilots to request authorization above the pre-approved ceilings, such as requesting to fly up to 100ft in a 0ft grid.

The FC LAANC process: expect more paperwork — and growing pains

Unlike the near-instant process of LAANC, FC LAANC is exactly what it sounds like — it requires some further coordination. FC LAANC requests require manual review by air traffic control in order to get approved.

And perhaps unsurprising to anyone who has had to deal with government paperwork, the process has challenges. Robots, it seems, do work better than government employees.

According to an October 2022 report from Aloft, the nation’s largest LAANC service supplier, “there is a major communication breakdown.”

In fact, data from Aloft shows that more than 200 airports have a 0% response rate. That indicates that it’s not necessarily that drone flights aren’t getting approved (and certainly, higher-risk drone flights shouldn’t necessarily be approved), but that no one is processing paperwork that could lead to an approval, period.

“From large and busy airports like San Francisco (SFO), which received the highest number of FC LAANC requests, to small Class D airports like Charlottesville (CHO), hundreds of airports are simply not responsive,” according to an Aloft report. “Most FC requests time out, as USSs are required to cancel FC requests within 24 hours of the planned start time if ATC has not given a yay or nay.”

That said, not all airports are as troubled as those. For example, Austin (AUS) approved 78.5% of all FC requests submitted through Aloft. Aloft has a full map of FC LAANC response rates by airport, which you can see here.

Aloft created an interactive map to display the airports which currently have a 0% Further Coordination response rate. Click the map to be redirected to Aloft’s website to interact with it.

What’s wrong with the paltry FC LAANC approvals rates? A few things.

For drone pilots, it could be blocking important drone flights, especially commercial ones. LAANC was a game changer for a lot of commercial drone use cases that needed to be done instantly, such as emergency response. A hobby pilot flying during their vacation could plan out their drone flight weeks in advance with minimal burden. But a police officer trying to put a surveillance drone in the air to track an auto burglary in real time can’t plan that out ahead of time. 

For drones flying emergency use cases at higher altitude, the low approvals rate simply means that work that could be done via drone — often more easily and cheaply than it could be with a human trying to do the same work — just isn’t getting done at all.

And it’s also a sign that there might still be some broken systems in government. Certainly, ATC operators have higher priorities at times. Ensuring planes carrying hundreds of passengers safely land is certainly higher-priority than flying a drone (most would say, at least).

But the Aloft data indicates there is a lot of room for improvement.

How common is FC LAANC?

That said, FC LAANC is not very common. In fact, FC LAANC requests only make up about 10-15% of all commercial LAANC requests according to data from Aloft. The Bay Area drone software maker was responsible for issuing 84% of the 43,000 total LAANC requests that the FAA received in September.

When LAANC requests are made, Aloft is able to distinguish between drone flights for recreational purposes versus business or commercial use cases. And while there have always been more commercial drone flights than recreationally flights, the rate of commercial LAANC requests (which is a solid indicator of overall number of drone flights) has drastically increased, while the rate of commercial drone flights has remained pretty flat.

Chart courtesy of Aloft

Have you needed to file an FC LAANC request? How did the process go? Leave a comment below!

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