Inside LAANC and UAS Facility Maps – Drones Information
LAANC and UAS system cards
The purpose of this blog post is to delve a little deeper into LAANC (Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability), the system used to apply for and obtain FAA approval to operate in controlled airspace. This article explains in particular the UAS facility maps (usually abbreviated as UASFMs) and their role in the LAANC system.
UAS Facility Maps (UASFMs)
LAANC is used to apply for and obtain near-instant approval to operate SUAS in controlled airspace in the United States. The idea behind LAANC is that even in busy airspace, UAS can generally operate at or below certain altitudes without increasing the risk to other aircraft operating in the same air traffic facility or airport. UASFMs are the maps that represent these altitudes and provide some of the data used to facilitate LAANC authorizations.
Think of an airport with a single runway that faces east / west. Any aircraft landing or taking off from this runway will fly east or west at a low altitude if planes disembark after takeoff or disembark to land. In this very common situation, UAS operations at higher elevations in the east and west of the airport can pose a risk to low-flying aircraft, but operations in the north and south pose very little risk below the legal limit of 400 feet AGL as others Airplanes rarely operate there. UAS facility maps reflect this relative risk, typically restricting UAS to lower altitudes where other aircraft are more likely to operate and allowing UAS to operate up to 400 feet AGL in parts of the controlled airspace where there is less risk.
How UASFMs are used in LAANC
UAS facility maps are a key part of what enables LAANC operations. Any air traffic facility with controlled airspace that is LAANC-enabled is divided into small grids. Currently, these grids each represent a square, roughly one minute of latitude by one minute of longitude, each with a corresponding height. These heights are selected by the local air traffic facility based on their knowledge of operations in that particular area. This height represents the height above ground (AGL) at which the ATC and the FAA have determined it is generally safe to operate at or below that height. as long as you have permission from the FAA in the form of a valid LAANC permit. Typically, when you submit a LAANC authorization request at or below the level for that UASFM network, your operation should be approved instantly and automatically.
If for any reason you need to fly above this altitude, you can still use LAANC for so-called “further coordination” requests. Further coordination means that the USS / FAA cannot automatically approve your operation based on the information you have submitted (e.g. your request to operate above the UASFM network level), but the relevant air traffic facility may still be able to approve your approval request on factors such as how busy the airspace is, exactly when, where and how long the operation will take, etc.
The future development of the UAS Facility Maps will likely be based on recommendations from industry, the FAA, users of LAANC and UASFM, and groups that recommend FAA guidelines such as the Drone Advisory Committee (DAC). Recently, the FAA’s DAC made two recommendations about UASFMs: each grid square should get smaller, 30 seconds longitude and 30 seconds latitude, and the FAA could assign heights to those squares using algorithms that use multiple data sources.
Where can you find UASFM information?
The FAA provides the public with an authoritative source of data for UAS-related data on the UDDS (UAS Data Delivery System) website. On the UDDS website you can find “Visualize It”, a web-based map containing important UAS data such as NSUFRs (National Security UAS Flight Restrictions) and UAS Facility Maps. Kittyhawk and other LAANC USS use these data sources to populate our platform with authoritative data from the FAA. At Kittyhawk, we take this data and try to make it as easy as possible for our user community to understand.
If you’d like to learn more, the FAA has an entire subsection of their YouTube page dedicated to UAS-related topics. One of these videos is about navigating UAS system maps. Check out this video below. https://www.youtube.com/embed/_yMt94UN0C8