COO Weekly Message: Maps Show Path to UAS Integration

Hi everyone. This week we passed another significant milestone on our path to safely integrate Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) into the NAS. With the publication of more than 230 facility maps to streamline the drone authorization process, we’re advancing at a pace that follows the rapid growth and expansion of the UAS industry itself.

These specialized maps, designed and built by ATO’s aeronautical charting experts in Mission Support Services, will be used to help drone operators improve the quality of their Part 107 airspace authorization requests and help us process their requests more efficiently. Their release follows several months of non-stop planning and coordination with industry stakeholders to create data exchange standards and a common framework for the development of new applications that will automate the airspace approval process for UAS operators – otherwise known as a Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC).

Through our collaboration with industry these maps will enable near real-time processing of airspace notifications and automatic approval of requests below approved altitudes in controlled airspace. In turn, the data we receive about UAS operations through these third-party providers will inform other airspace users about drone operations, and allow Air Traffic personnel to identify and contact drone operators.

Currently, the process by which drone operators receive airspace authorization from the FAA is manual and cumbersome. The target timeframe to manually process authorization requests is 90 days, and as these requests continue to outpace approvals, the queue keeps growing. In addition, phone calls to towers from drone operators take time away from controllers monitoring the airspace.

We know the only way forward is through automation, and we can’t go down this road alone. The LAANC program, led by our own Program Management Organization, harnesses the resources and ingenuity of private industry to develop user-friendly tools for drone operators to obtain airspace authorizations as quickly as possible. The next phase of this program looks to evaluate potential automation platforms and begin field-testing in FY18.

The ATO is not in the app-building business – but we are the worldwide experts in building aeronautical maps. The safe and efficient integration of UAS into the NAS will require accurate UAS facility maps for locations across the nation. More maps will be released this year to follow the 56-day aeronautical chart production schedule.

Our work here is far from over, but the progress we’ve made to date is worth noting. Thank you to everyone on the UAS facility maps and LAANC teams for your efforts over to engage with industry, enhance airspace safety, improve operational efficiency and enable the continued growth of an entirely new sector of our aviation economy.

Thanks everyone!

Teri L. Bristol

ATO Chief Operating Officer

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