With the anticipation of FAA’s hinting toward an easier and faster way of gaining authorization for low altitude operations near certain airports, we have been looking at how to best understand both WHERE and HOW HIGH you may be able to fly your UAS.
Traditionally you would need to request a waiver with the FAA if you were a licensed UAS pilot wanting to fly within certain controlled airspace, which can be time-consuming and may make the operation itself impractical, but newer Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) maps being produced by the FAA could be used to provide UAS pilots with quicker access to airspace near certain airports. These publicly available digital maps provide a gridded approach to the areas surrounding certain airports along with associated altitude limits we may expect to be permitted within each grid space. This will allow a licensed UAS pilot to plan in advance and be better prepared when submitting online approvals for their flight operations.
We are able to see this data in our UTM system and provide not only a unique visualization of these data maps, but also provide consideration about the airspace nearby, terrain impacts, and other aspects of the flight plan that may be involved.
You can see the color-coding on the LAANC data above where RED indicates that UAS operations are not approved, ORANGE shows operating limits of 100′ Above Ground Level (AGL), LIGHTER ORANGE indicates limits of 200′ AGL, and YELLOW indicates that UAS may be able to operate up to their max altitude of 400′ AGL.
Because LAANC maps are indicating the maximum allowable operating altitude with reference to “ground”, it is also important to fully understand the limitations this may introduce on your planned flight. Terrain becomes a concern in these situations and pilots can certainly benefit from understanding these areas thanks to our 3D visualization.
Since most UAS systems report altitude back to the operator relative to where they took off, this can introduce some uncertainty regarding the aircraft’s actual height above ground. For example, let’s imagine that you planned a flight within a LAANC grid area which permits flights up to 100′ AGL where you then take off and climb to 50′. At this point you are within the LAANC operating guidelines, but if you were to move laterally a few hundred meters while holding that altitude, the ground below could change significantly in some areas which could put you at risk of violating the altitude limit by quite a significant amount. Here is an exaggerated example:
Here you can see a cylinder showing the volume of a UAS pilot’s operation. This just so happens to be at the top of a ridge line where climbing to the upper limit of the LAANC altitude and moving laterally would actually end up being several hundred feet above ground level. In fact, for reference you can see a manned aircraft around pattern altitude actually intersecting with the UAS volume at almost 750′ AGL.
We are currently exploring other unique ways to help pilots understand the terrain impacts on their flight plans. One recent example is the idea of coloring the flight area based on the terrain separation. Here we assume the pilot may take off, fly to the max allowable altitude for the region, and remain in an ‘AltHold’ type of flight mode.
Here you can see an example of this approach with areas colored according to risk of violating listed altitude limits:
We are constantly pushing more decision-support information into our OneSkyUTM to help users understand these types of airspace considerations along with weather, restricted areas, obstacles, and other data layers which can be used to make more informed decisions, stay within operating regulations, and minimize risk. If you haven’t already, please visit our website and sign-up for an account to become a BETA user of our system!