In a comment, abelenky offered some words of wisdom which I personally agree with regarding sUAS ops near a surface Class C:

When in doubt or close, call Tower and state your intentions. They'll approve you, and if you cross into their airspace you will be legal. If you stay outside their airspace, you asked approval for no reason, but no harm done.

However, how should a sUAS operator contact an ATC entity that has jurisdiction over surface airspace (such as Tucson or Davis-Monathan Tower, in the querent's example)? Should they place a phone call to the Tower phone number? Call the Tower on frequency with a handheld airband radio?

Further, is it even legal for a sUAS operator to use an airband radio in the US (i.e. does a commercial sUAS certificate count as a FCC aeronautical-mobile license the same way a regular PPL/... does)? And if they were to call the Tower on the radio, how should they ID themselves/what callsign should they use, as I am not sure if a sUAS registration number is a valid radiotelephone callsign?

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    $\begingroup$ "does a commercial sUAS certificate count as a FCC aeronautical-mobile license the same way a regular PPL/... does" - Might be worth noting: by my reading of the FCC rules, a PPL doesn't count as an FCC license. The rule states that a license is not needed to use an airband radio as long as that radio is located on board an aircraft. So PPL holders are not permitted to transmit while not on board an aircraft (unless they have a radio license), and non-PPL occupants of an aircraft are allowed to transmit. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 10, 2018 at 16:59
  • $\begingroup$ This question may well be obsolete due to recent changes in regulations, and the introduction of the LAANC authorization system. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 25, 2021 at 23:21

3 Answers 3


First, you should NOT transmit on air bands as a UAS pilot. You do not have a ground station license and it would be a violation of both FCC and FAA rules, contact with the tower, when necessary, should be done via the phone. It is fine (and I'd even encourage) to monitor the air bands relevant to the location you are flying in to be aware of on-going traffic.

How to approach contacting the tower depends on what you are flying your sUAS as. LAANC (Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability) is now active almost everywhere, though some particular airports still do not use it. LAANC should be used whenever available, however the traditional approach will still need to be used for any particular airports not yet participating in LAANC.


If you are flying near an airport where LAANC is available, then you can simply use an app from your mobile phone to request flight authorization/notification. You simply enter the area or flight plan you will be flying and hit the button to request approval and then wait for the notification it's granted.

This can be done regardless of if you are a part 107 pilot or a recreational pilot. As long as you are flying below the maximum altitudes defined in the UAS Facilities Maps, you should receive near immediate approval in most cases. If you are flying above these limits, you will need to be a 107 pilot and go through the traditional waiver process.

You can find a listing of apps that currently support LAANC listed on the FAA's website here.

Traditional Notification/Waiver

If the airport you are flying near does not support LAANC, then if you are flying for purely recreational purposes, you must provide notification to the airport operator and ATC prior to your flight. You should use the telephone contact information to do this. As long as they do not specifically deny your flight, you only have to provide notification.

If you are flying under part 107 (FAA certified remote pilot), you will need either an airspace authorization (easier to get and may be requested up to 6 months) or an airspace waiver (harder to get and may be requested for up to 2 years). You should check the UAS Facilities Maps to find the maximum easily allowable altitude for your flight and submit the airspace authorization request online through DroneZone.

It is currently taking around a week or two for authorizations that fall within the UAS Facility Maps guidelines and longer if additional research is needed to get approval. Authorizations are ONLY offered for airports not currently supporting LAANC as LAANC is the preferred means of processing.

One of the conditions of getting either a waiver or an airspace authorization is to provide details on how you intend to handle contact with ATC. Contacting the tower via phone is the most general approach. Some also monitor ATC frequencies so that ATC can more rapidly get ahold of them if needed.

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    $\begingroup$ Regulations have changed greatly since this answer was posted. There is now a requirement to get "prior authorization" before flying in most controlled airspace, regardless of whether the operations are conducted under Part 107 or under the Recreational Exception.. If I wanted to fly a radio-controlled plane in the Class D airspace of KIAB, for example, which is not currently supported by LAANC (hence the red color of the grid), it would not be sufficient to simply call the tower and notify them. I would need to get prior authorization somehow. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 12, 2020 at 23:39
  • $\begingroup$ @quietflyer is quite right that the rules for recreation have changed since the original post. I don't have time to update everything yet, but recreational is supposed to be getting rolled in to LAANC or something similar. I haven't kept completely up to date on that though as I fly under 107 which hasn't changed significantly since this post. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 14, 2020 at 18:16

Its a bit simpler than that, the process is outlined at the FAA website for UAS; and is mentioned as requesting a waiver.

You have to fill out an online form which contains the time and date of operation; and submit it 90 days in advance (tick the box labeled 107.41 Operation in certain airspace, and then identify the aerodome and airspace class).

This handy PDF has some further guidance on the rules around UAS operations.

A final note that this applies only to the US.


Operators of an sUAS, or drone, should avoid flying near airports because of the difficulty aircraft pilots have in seeing or avoiding them. However, if you wish to operate your sUAS near airports in controlled airspace, you need to get airspace authorization prior to operation.

This used to be done by telephoning airport traffic control (ATC). Today, for most airports, operators can receive near real-time authorization to fly their drone under 400 feet in controlled airspace around airports.

It works through a system called the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC). It’s a collaboration between FAA and industry. LAANC “directly supports UAS integration into the airspace.” It provides drone pilots with access to controlled airspace below 400 feet and makes them aware of where they can and cannot fly.

LAANC automates your application and approval to fly in controlled airspace. Your request is checked against several airspace databases. If approved, the applicant receives authorization in near-real time. Even with this authorization, the pilot must still consider other factors such a weather conditions at flight time.

More information is available on the FAA’s LAANC website.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to AviationStackExchange. Is there anything you can add to your answer that my expound upon it more than AJ Henderson has done in his answer? $\endgroup$
    – Dean F.
    Commented Mar 15, 2021 at 19:58

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