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FAA facilitates night drone flights in controlled airspace

The Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) system that enables unmanned aircraft operations in controlled airspace surrounding 726 airports was updated to accommodate requests to operate at times between the end of evening civil twilight and the start of morning civil twilight. The FAA published a national authorization in April that allowed remote pilots to apply authorizations issued for daylight operations to night flights. The workaround was somewhat cumbersome, because a single night flight could require two daytime authorizations if the flight began before midnight and ended after.

The agency announced on September 30 that LAANC now supports authorizing night flights in the same simple way that airspace authorizations are provided for daytime use, using software provided by one of several companies that the FAA has approved as LAANC service providers.

Another upgrade made more of the controlled airspace around LAANC-enabled airports accessible to remote pilots: smaller segments. LAANC divides controlled airspace into a grid, with an altitude limit for each segment ranging from zero to 400 feet. The new grids, which can be viewed on the UAS Facility Map, subdivided the original squares into smaller rectangles. Remote pilots can receive near-instant authorizations to fly up to the published altitude limit in one or more segments, and increasing the number of segments within a given airport’s LAANC grid makes more of the airspace accessible to remote pilots, particularly in segments closer to the airport where larger segments with an altitude limit of zero have been subdivided in many cases into segments where flights can be authorized by the automated system.

LAANC requests can be submitted by certificated remote pilots operating under Part 107, as well as by recreational flyers with registered drones. Certificated remote pilots can submit a “further coordination request” to conduct flights beyond the published LAANC limits through the FAA Drone Zone.

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