March 1, 2019
A challenge for many of our clients who fly their own drones is navigating the FAA’s airspace regulations. In this article, we guide you through the process of determining if you are in controlled airspace, break down your options for measuring stockpiles near an airport, teach you what to do if you need a waiver, and guide you through DJI’s newest Fly Safe update, GEO System 2.0.
Navigating controlled airspace is time-consuming. With a Stockpile Reports subscription, you can have our licensed drone pilots fly for you, saving you the time and cost of getting your own drone equipment, getting licensed, maintaining the equipment and software, and making the work of getting inventory done much easier.
The navigable airspace above your site falls into one of two major categories: controlled or uncontrolled. Fortunately, a majority of airspace near the ground in the United States is uncontrolled. Before flying a drone at a new location, it is always good practice to determine if the airspace is controlled by a local airport or military base. This process is easy because there are several app for that!
One of our favorite apps for determining your airspace is AirMap. This app clearly displays all of the relevant airspace information at your current location. In the example below, the red triangle means you are located in a controlled airspace.
If you are located in controlled airspace, don’t worry. This doesn’t mean you can’t fly your drone, you just need to follow a set of rules in order to obtain permission to fly.
In the following section, we will explain the various options for stockpile measurement in controlled airspace. Depending on how close you are located to an airport and the size of the airport itself, your option may be as easy as filling out an electronic form with the FAA prior to flight. In other cases, it might be much more complicated than that and our app or full service aerials might be better suited for you.
With a Stockpile Reports subscription, you have access to our patented iPhone app which allows you to measure stockpiles from the ground. This is particularly useful when your site is located next to the end of an airport runway or within a mile of a major airport such as Chicago O’Hare or Los Angeles International Airport. Another benefit to the iPhone app is that you don’t need to get an FAA certification to fly a drone commercially.
Wondering how easy it is to measure a stockpile with an iPhone? Check out the video below to see just how easy it is.
Stockpile Reports’ full-service aerial solution is the ultimate hands-off experience. Schedule your flights for as low as $250 and we will send a certified drone pilot out to your site. The pilot will already know how to navigate all the airspace restrictions at your location. In the event that the airspace is still too restrictive for a drone pilot, we have a network of professional aerial photographers who capture your inventory from manned aircraft.
A waiver is an authorization to fly your drone in controlled airspace. Prior to applying for a waiver from the FAA, you will need to determine which type of controlled airspace you are in. The type of controlled airspace you are located in will dictate the best route to obtain a waiver. You will either be located in a LAANC zone where you will be able to obtain a waiver in near-time, or you will be in an area that will require you apply for a waiver using the traditional 90 day process.
Over the past year, the FAA has rolled out their Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC). According to the FAA, LAANC provides access to controlled airspace near airports through near real-time processing of airspace authorizations below approved altitudes in controlled airspace. This means, if you are flying under a specified altitude, you can obtain a waiver by filling out a simple form in one of several mobile apps. You can learn more about LAANC by reading about it at the FAA’s website.
The easiest method to determine if LAANC is available at your location is to use one of the FAA approved apps. At Stockpile Reports, we suggest AirMap or KittyHawk. In the example image below, we depict an airport where LAANC is available. Grided boxes (highlighted in blue) with numbers inside each box (highlighted with red, orange, and green boxes) show the elevation you can fly at and below to receive near real-time authorizations. Notice the boxes nearer the airport at the bottom right have an altitude of 0. This means you will need to apply for a waiver using the traditional method.
If you are in a zone with an elevation high enough for you to map out your site, simply follow the in-app instructions to apply for a temporary waiver. You will need to provide information including your FAA remote pilot certification number, the location of the flight, time and duration of the mission, and the maximum altitude of the flight. Make sure to apply at least an hour prior to your mission to ensure you receive authorization in time.
In the event that the airport your site is next to does not have LAANC or you are too close to the runway, you will need to fill out a traditional waiver. The waiver process is covered in detail on the FAA’s website which you can find here. We suggest watching their webinar which covers the ins and outs of applying for the waiver. You will need to provide specifics on your drone mission, your FAA Certification information, location data, as well as provide information on how you plan to conduct flight safely near an airport.
The largest downside to the traditional waiver application process is that it can take up to 90 days to receive your waiver. In this case, we suggest using Stockpile Reports’ full-service aerials to ensure you get the inventory numbers you need while you wait. Once a waiver is granted, you will have a long-standing authorization and you will not need to re-apply for each flight.
Congratulations, if you have made it this far and have a waiver in hand, you are ready to fly. Not so fast! DJI has implemented its own airspace safety system called DJI GEO. This system was created to prevent uninformed hobbyist drone pilots from causing potential safety risks near an airport.
You can determine if your site is affected by the safety system by searching DJI’s GEO Zone Map which can be found here. If you find that you are located in a warning or enhanced warning zone, you will need to take minimal action during flight. A warning will be prompted in the drone flight software which you need to accept. In the case that you are in an authorization, altitude, or restricted area zone, the video below walks you through the process of unlocking the drone for flight. We suggest contacting firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions. Their support will answer any of your GEO System related questions.
Navigating airspace can be a daunting task for someone new to drone operations. At Stockpile Reports, we are here to help with that process by giving you options. Skip the hassle and use our iPhone app or full-service aerials. If it is important to fly your own drone near an airport and do not know where to start, we can point you in the right direction. You can always use our full-service flights while you wait for your waiver application to be approved. With Stockpile Reports, you have options.
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