The FAA’s new system for managing low-altitude airspace had a big expansion today—the LAANC system is now handing out authorizations for recreational pilots. This gives U.S. pilots back a lot of the airspace that was lost back in May. While there are a few areas that aren’t being reopened by LAANC, the available airspace is now much easier to access. Gone is the need to make a phone call and relay a bunch of repetitive information to an air traffic controller—in its place is a 30-second process you can complete on your smartphone. This is the purpose of UASidekick.

A basic understanding of LAANC will be helpful when reading this article. Take a look at our post on the recreational LAANC expansion.

The UASidekick app provides up-to-date information about airspace classification and notifications that are relevant to drone pilots.

An Interview with UASidekick

While researching LAANC for recreational use, I sat down for a chat with Nathan Ruff, CEO at UASidekick to learn about the app. I was really impressed with the approach and respect for recreational users, and for race and freestyle pilots in particular.

Propwashed: “Tell us a little bit about UASidekick and why pilots might want to choose your app for LAANC.”

UASidekick: “UASidekick’s goal is to make it as easy and fast as possible for recreational pilots to obtain airspace authorizations. Filing a LAANC authorization normally takes less than 30 seconds from any iOS or Android smartphone or tablet.”

Propwashed: “There are rumors that some providers want to commercialize and profit from data mining LAANC, even for recreational flights. How does UASidekick handle user data and privacy?”

UASidekick: “Although we must collect pilot contact information in order to submit LAANC filings to the FAA, we never sell or share that data with anyone, period! Maintaining our customers’ privacy is a fundamental tenet of our organization. As pilots ourselves, we know the importance of safeguarding data and uphold this trust to the highest standards.”

Propwashed: “Access to UASidekick isn’t free, though. If you’re not selling user data, it makes sense that you would need to support the app in another way. However, you’ll need to provide compelling reasons to use your app over the other freely available options.”

UASidekick: “Because we are not backed by venture capital, we are able to provide our customers what they need, not what will return the greatest profit. Listening to the voice-of-the-customer drives our development cycle. If we are not providing value to remote pilots, then we are not doing our job.”

Propwashed: “So you are open to community input? How would someone do that?”

UASidekick: “If you have an idea on what would make UASidekick more useful, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly at nathan@uasidekick.com. I firmly believe that the only way to create a truly useful airspace app is to understand what the pilot community needs.”

Propwashed: “The racing and freestyle communities are pretty unique among drone operators as a whole—but I hear you’ve been considering us and even spoken with race organization leaders during development.”

UASidekick: “As both manned and UAS pilots ourselves, we have the utmost respect and admiration for MultiGP and the other racing organizations. Flying FPV requires incredibly honed skills. Our goal at UASidekick is to do our part by taking the headache out of getting authorized to launch so that the pilots can get on with their real job … flying.”

Propwashed: “Yeah; we were all taken aback and many had to scramble to get race locations approved when the airspace rules changed in May. It shouldn’t be so hard to fly where no manned aircraft will reasonably ever go, and it’s been difficult to even just understand what conditions we’re allowed to fly under.”

UASidekick: “We understand that the FAA Reauthorization created an additional burden on the racing community in terms of accessing airspace. Our mission at UASidekick is to make meeting these new regulations as painless and easy as possible!”

Thank you, Nathan and UASidekick!

The UASidekick App

Finding a place to fly and filing an authorization request with LAANC is a simple affair.

Reviewing airspace

First and foremost, you’ll need to know where you can fly. UASidekick allows you to browse the country to review how airspace is classified and where no-fly zones exist. Zoom in on most of these spaces and you’ll start to see LAANC grids with their altitude ceilings. As a recreational pilot, you won’t be able to request authorization above these altitudes through LAANC—so this gives you a very accurate idea of where you can fly before you even request an authorization. To make sure your flight goes smoothly, you can also quickly check upcoming weather, including solar weather which impacts GPS.

Setting up a Flight Plan

You have several options to define your flight area. It’s best to keep the area defined as only the space you will actually use. You can use the circle option to simply drop a radius on the map for the simplest and quickest option. If you cross a grid boundary, the lowest altitude limit in any grid will apply to your entire flight. For that reason, you might choose the polygon option to draw your own boundary. If you’re a long-range pilot, the “centerline” option lets you draw a line which expands to a rectangular area. Finish your flight plan by setting a start and end date and time.

If you do cross grids, you can get the full altitude authorization for each area in your flight by submitting multiple requests.

Getting Authorization

To wrap up the process, you need to submit some identifying information with the request. Most of this you will have entered when you set up the app for the first time, and it is copied over for you. Fields marked with “FAA” are required by the FAA to be sent with the request—UASidekick doesn’t ask for more than is needed to make an approval go smoothly. At this last step you’ll see whether authorization is likely based on what you entered. It takes only seconds after submitting to get a response with the details of your authorization.

We really appreciate the work that UASidekick has been doing to make flying easy, safe, and private. If you want to use it as your LAANC app of choice, you can pick up the Android or iOS version. Your first three flight authorizations are free, so give it a shot and see whether it’s right for you.

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