FAA puts new drone management system in play

Aerix drone
Recreational drone fliers can use a new online system to get authorization. (Aerix Photo)

Good news for law-abiding drone operators: The Federal Aviation Administration is expanding its automated online system for authorizing recreational flights in controlled airspace.

Today the FAA announced the expansion of the Low Altitude Authorization and Capability System, or LAANC, which provides authorization in near real-time.

Since May, drone operators have been required to get LAANC clearance for flights they wanted to conduct within controlled airspace, but the system wasn’t available for recreational fliers. You could still fly your drone for fun in uncontrolled airspace, but those spots tend to be hard to find in areas anywhere close to an airport.

As a stopgap, the FAA set aside a limited number of fixed sites in controlled airspace where such flights would be OK, including four sites in Washington state. All of those sites cater to model-airplane hobbyists, and may require a membership fee.

Now recreational fliers have a wider range of places to choose from, as long as they use the LAANC system. You still have to comply with all the rules for drone flights, including keeping your craft below 400 feet and within your line of sight. There are also local regulations to consider: For example, drone flights are forbidden in Seattle city parks.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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