Planning Your Flights
As an avid drone user, I can tell you one of the most difficult parts of planning a flight is determining where I can and can't fly. We all know the FAA has placed restrictions in certain areas, but local government or restrictions could make your flight planning difficult. To give you an example, when I first purchased my drone I was ready to take it with me everywhere. It wasn't until I showed up to a few local parks that I was made aware of the fact that drones weren't allowed. Of course, I learned my lesson quickly and now call ahead, but even this proved to be overly difficult. Recently, I've been using the phone app - AirMap to plan my flights and find out about any restrictions in the area I'm looking to find. AirMap isn't a random company spitting out flight restrictions and maps, but instead they are an app that is approved by and working with the FAA to grant flight approvals as well as make drone pilots aware of any local restrictions.
Coming straight from their homepage "AirMap is an approved U.A.S. Service Supplier of the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability system (L.A.A.N.C.) to U.S. commercial drone operators". Basically, the FAA has recently been working with private parties to dramatically increase the wait time to get a flight approved in controlled airspace. AirMap takes it one step further and makes the entire approval process possible through their mobile application. Through the LAANC program, private companies can submit and approve drone users for flights that would otherwise have previously taken days or weeks to be approved for. Approval for controlled airspace is just one of the many features offered in the application though.
If you are curious about what rules or regulations may exist in your area, you can open the app and view all of them in real time. This is by far my favorite feature. I frequently fly on this mesa down the street from us, but have been unable to find any sound evidence on the flight restrictions. As soon as I opened the application up, I was able to see the only ones in place are the generic FAA rules (height, line of sight, no flying over people, etc). The AirMap app can easily alert you of flight restrictions due to sporting events, concerts, emergency flights in the area, and more.
Planning your flight couldn't be easier with AirMap. When it comes to the area that you plan on flying in, you can draw a custom flight path or use the app's prebuilt shapes. You can then increase or decrease the margins to let the app know the general whereabouts of your flight. After you've planned out the actual route, the next screen will let you set your flight take off time and designate how long you plan on flying. There are also a few generic questions like ``Are you keeping the drone in line of sight? Are you flying over crowds?``. Once you've set up your flight route and timing information, AirMap will let you see the regulations in the area. Some of these regulations might just be advisories, whereas some of them are hard flight bans. These bans could be due to the time of day, for instance, a sporting event will have the airspace around the venue closed for a few hours before and after their event.
Restrictions & Advisories
AirMaps will let you know the regulations in two categories: Restrictions & Advisories. If there are restrictions where you plan on flying, you are able to apply for approval for your flight. If approved, you're all set and can hit the skies. If the flight is denied, please follow the rules and don't put your drone up. These restrictions are put in place for a reason, don't ruin the fun for everyone :). As you can see in the example picture, the Flight Ban shown is temporary and will be lifted after a specific time. (There was a Rockies baseball game schedule). You should make yourself aware of any advisories from the app and take them into consideration before putting the drone in the sky. Most of the places I've been flying at recently have flight advisories but no actual restrictions. Advisories are generally warnings about Heli-pads in the area, small events around you, etc. Definitely read them and make yourself more aware of your flight surroundings.
After you've planned your flight route, scheduled your flight time, checked the restrictions and advisories, it's time to see the weather. I know there are a lot of drone apps out there that let you see wind, weather, rain, etc, but it's great to have another one thrown in the mix. Especially since it will be showing you the weather for your scheduled time, not necessarily the time of viewing the weather. This comes in handy when you are planning a flight for the next day or maybe over the weekend.
There’s the basic breakdown of the AirMap app and how to use it. If you are interested more in the flight approval system through L.A.A.N.C, check out their video explaining L.A.A.N.C and how they’ve integrated with the FAA (Full Video Here). This app is a powerful addition to the drone apps already out there, and I highly recommend using it. I mean, seriously, it’s FREE! Now get out there and plan some flights. As always, if you have any questions about the application or have some other apps you use, I’d love to hear them!