Approval Services — Correcting Some Misconceptions

May 21 2024

Posted by Stephen Farmer Insight

news main image Leeds Bradford Airport UTM Ready shown on

In August 2023, Altitude Angel launched a new platform, the first of its kind anywhere in the world - Approval Services.  The Approval Services platform allows drone operators, and in the future eVTOL pilots, the ability to request and pay for operations within an airport’s airspace (FRZ, and in some cases CTR) digitally and at the touch of a button. 

By seeking approval through Approval Services, drone operators are now able to get flights approved in minutes whereas previously it may have taken weeks. 

However, the platform’s ability to allow airspace managers to configure and charge an administrative fee for reviewing and approving flight requests, where appropriate, was not welcomed by all within the commercial drone community. 

By way of response, Stephen Farmer, our Head of Communications, wrote the attached blog post which was first posted on LinkedIn, and has been recreated here.  In it, he addresses in turn and in his own way, the concerns we’ve heard from drone operators. 

As in his previous blog on Project Skyway, the intention here is to provide clarity around some of the fallacies, address genuine concerns, and correct the misconceptions about Approval Services and highlight the many benefits to aerodromes and operators of this enabling service.   


In 2022 Altitude Angel conducted a wide-ranging survey with drone operators, both commercial and recreational. Aside from gaining an understanding of what flights were being carried out and for what purpose – photography, filming, surveying etc – we also asked drone operators ‘what are the top challenges you face?' The No.1 answer was ‘getting permission to fly’.  Furthermore, only 20-per-cent found getting permission to fly in controlled airspace easy.  

So, in 2023 Altitude Angel launched a new platform, Approval Services, with the goal of ‘opening’ more airspace – which is to say make it easier for drone operators to request permission to fly in restricted areas and at the same time make it easy for airspace managers to approve the request.

Primarily designed and built for airports, but subsequently adopted by large landowners, Approval Services allows airspace managers to receive requests to fly in the airspace (or, to access otherwise restricted or private land) they manage from drone operators, and for them to approve, decline, or request the flight plan be amended - all digitally. 

For the first time, drone operators could request a flight within an airport FRZ (and/or CTR in certain circumstances), where the airport is using Approval Services, through Drone Assist, the UK’s leading flight planning app, in a unified way.  This platform negated the need to visit the airport’s, airfield’s, or aerodrome’s website to find ways of seeking approval, as existing methods were becoming slower and more cumbersome as drone volumes grew.

By seeking approval through Approval Services, drone operators are now able to get flights approved in minutes whereas previously it may have taken weeks.

And the platform allows airspace managers to configure and charge an administrative fee for reviewing and approving flight requests, where appropriate. 

It is this last point which has seemingly caused some consternation within the commercial drone community. 

Why are drone users being charged?

Airports and airfields are not deploying the Approval Services platform because it’s nice to have, they’re deploying it because they need it.  Why? Because drone operations within the airspace they manage have increased together with the amount of information they typically tend to require in order to make their decisions, and this has put additional workload on airspace managers who were already working at capacity.

As stated above, Approval Services allows the airspace manager to understand and manage their airspace in a safer and more controlled way, with a drone operation clearly marked on a map and the drone operator’s details to hand. Where airports have drone surveillance systems in place, they can be connected to the Approval Services platform so that drones operating within the airspace can be correlated with any approvals which have been given.

However, it still takes the airspace manager time to review and manage the flight request.  It is the administrative cost incurred in approving the flight which operators are charged for - operators WILL NOT BE CHARGED for flight requests which are declined (or not approved).

The airport sets the fee.  Altitude Angel, in its role as a platform provider, facilitates the transaction by connecting the facility to the drone operator in a seamless and secure way.

What about CAP 722?

Ahh, CAP 722, the document which says, ‘drone operators cannot be charged’'. Or does it?

CAP 722C is often misunderstood.  It provides policy and guidance to both sponsors of airspace and UAS operators. The guidance therein is NOT regulation (which is to say a rule or law which requires compliance and can be enforced).

The regulations for airspace sponsors and UAS operators can be found in UAS Regulation (EU) 2019/947.

CAP7 22C is a living document. As you can see on the CAA website, CAP 722 has been through (at the last count:) nine iterations and will continue to change as drone operations become more prevalent and the requirements placed on airspace sponsors to authorise flight operations within an FRZ and CTR are better understood.

CAP 722 says the airport cannot charge for accessing airspace...

Correct. In its current guise, whilst CAP 722 does not specifically mention whether the sponsor can charge for processing applications, it does state "there should be no reason for a Sponsor to charge for access to airspace for UAS.This implies the sponsor should not impose charges on UAS operators for merely accessing the airspace.

However, the absence of explicit guidance on charging for processing applications leaves room for interpretation. As stated earlier, in general, airspace management involves administrative tasks, coordination, and evaluation of applications to ensure safety and efficient use of airspace. Merely being in the airspace itself is not the aspect airports charge for.

It would be impossible to argue against the fact the sponsor may incur some costs in handling these administrative functions related to UAS flight requests.

At present, sponsors charge general aviation take-off and landing fees to cover the costs of providing airspace management services. The CAP 722 text also states the cost of UAS operations should not be passed to manned aviation.

Considering the context provided, it can be reasonably argued the airspace sponsor can recover reasonable fee for processing applications.

It's just another cost commercial drone operators have to bear...

Yes, it is another financial cost for those commercial drone operators who wish to fly in an FRZ.

But what about the benefits incurred of this service to the drone operator?

The operator can now submit a flight plan for approval through Drone Assist or, flight planning tools most, if not all, will already be using to plan operations with confidence – the request is going to be managed.  It’s simple and saves the operator time – remember, the operator will have an hourly rate as well.

A speedy response from the airport may facilitate more work – operators can commit to jobs with confidence at short notice (no customer will want to wait two weeks for an emergency roof inspection).  Also, the charges involved with facilitating an approval are clearly displayed on Drone Assist, which means costing operations can be done with transparency. 

Why are some airports charging commercial drone operators and not recreational/hobbyists?

Who and what the airport charges is a matter for the airport. But from our conversations with the airspace managers a number of themes have emerged.  Some don’t want to charge any drone user. Those airports have taken the opinion that the costs incurred in approving flights within their FRZ (and/or CTR in some circumstances) is one they wish to include with other overheads incurred with managing airspace.

Other airports which are choosing to differentiate between commercial and recreational drone operators are doing so because they see the two as being quite different.  They see commercial operators as deriving commercial value and benefiting from using the approval service.  Whereas recreational users may simply want to fly their small, sub-250g drone in their back garden, which just so happens to fall within the airport’s FRZ. 

Ultimately, airspace managers manage and operate their airspace in a way they feel works best for them in order to provide safe, equitable, access to the airspace for all.   

The future...

What we’re witnessing is the first iteration of a new technology as airports, aerodromes, and their like, with responsibility for managing airspace retire their legacy systems and adopt new platforms like Approval Services, to facilitate flight approvals.

Those airports who have already adopted the platform are exploring ways at how the process for reviewing drone flight requests can be further refined, and Altitude Angel will be introducing new services and features - such as zoning the FRZ allowing for fees to be based on perceived risk, location, and altitude - to enable more operations in more airspace.

In Summary

Altitude Angel wants to enable more drone operations, simple as.  We don’t want to see drone operators burdened with unnecessary costs, and nor do we want to see airspace managers struggle under the weight of flight approval requests. 

Our solution, which we think is fair and equitable, is Approval Services.

It lightens the burden on airspace managers and allows them to manage more drone operations within the airspace they are tasked with managing in a simple, but highly effective way.

And it provides commercial drone operators with speed and financial transparency.

As we find more uses for drones, their use within airport FRZs will increase.  Approval Services provides benefits for both the airspace manager and the operator.   

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