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The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has restricted heavily drones from flying in controlled airspace, which includes areas within five miles of airports. That rule has negatively effected many drone professionals and hobbyists, due to the sweeping areas that were defined as off-limits. Now, the FAA has cleared nine companies, including prominent drone maker DJI to fly their drones in areas near airports. The other companies include Aeronyde, Airbus, AiRXOS, Altitude Angel, Converge, KittyHawk, UASidekick and Unifly.

However, this isn’t just a blanket authorization to fly in restricted airspace whenever and wherever you please — but the new rules will make it easier for drone flyers to get access to these areas.

Until now, if you wanted to fly in restricted airspace legally, you had to submit a request to the FAA, and receiving an approval could take weeks, sometimes even months.

Professional drone operators can now request access to controlled airspace and receive a response in near real-time — they’ll be notified which areas and what altitudes they are allowed to fly in. The FAA will then inform relevant authorities like Air Traffic Control and ensure that drones won’t be allowed to fly too close to airplanes which has caused a string of near-accidents. An FAA study even found that drones could cause more damage to an airplane than a birdstrike.

The move was part of the FAA’s Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) initiative, which was developed by private industry and the FAA.

Note that these regulations only apply to Part 107 certified, or “professional,” drone pilots — so it’ll still be difficult for hobbyists to fly in these areas.  In any case, it doesn’t appear to be too difficult to get a drone license, and there are currently more than 100,000 Part 107 operators.

The LAANC program should now be available at nearly 300 air traffic facilities covering approximately 500 airports, says the FAA.

“Before LAANC, using drones for productive work near many airports required detailed applications and up to months of waiting, even when the benefits were clear and safety was prioritized,” DJI Program Manager Brandon Montellato told Engadget. “Now, LAANC allows easy drone use in more than 2,000 square miles near airports, including many populated areas that can benefit tremendously from drone operations.”

H/T: Engadget

Featured image by PASCAL PAVANI/AFP/Getty Images.

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