After a number of near-misses between unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and aircraft over the past several months, including a drone sighting close to a plane landing at John F. Kennedy International Airport, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rolled out a new app to keep drone users informed on where it is safe and legal to operate.
The smartphone app, named B4UFLY, is part of an FAA initiative to help hobbyist drone pilots operate their aircraft in a safe manner by providing users with information about restrictions or requirements in effect at their current or planned flight location.
Using the location services feature of a user’s smartphone, the app quickly determines restrictions or requirements in effect where they want to fly and gives the user a clear status icon. The status indicator function considers airspace, proximity to airports, temporary flight restrictions, current law and other FAA guidance and procedures.
Key features of the B4UFLY app include:
- A clear “status” indicator that immediately informs operators about their current or planned location;
- Information on the parameters that drive the status indicator;
- A “Planner Mode” for future flights in different locations;
- Informative, interactive maps with filtering options; and
- Links to other FAA UAS resources and regulatory information.
The FAA says the app will complement its education campaign, “Know Before You Fly,” which provides UAS operators with the information and guidance they need to fly safely and responsibly. As Homeland Security Today previously reported, the campaign emerged amid rising fears that drones could pose a threat to commercial flights.
In fact, the FAA receives about 25 reports each month from pilots about UAS flying too close to their aircraft, sometimes even near major airports. Consequently, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta announced B4UFLY in May.
“The ‘Know before You Fly’ campaign allows us to harness the resources and expertise of industry as we strive to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world,” Huerta commented.
FAA’s B4UFLY app is currently in a beta test phase, which is expected to run for several months, to uncover any software bugs. Up to 1,000 unmanned aircraft users have been invited to test the new app before the final version becomes available to the public.
The beta test will be for iOS devices only, but the FAA is working to ensure the full version will be compatible with Android devices as well.
The FAA’s notice announcing the new app notes that many unmanned aircraft users today have little or no aviation experience, and some of them are flying where they could endanger manned aircraft. Although the new app and initiatives like “Know Before You Fly” are a step in the right direction, the FAA has yet to implement regulations for the commercial use of small drones.
Homeland Security Today recently reported that in response to FAA data revealing an increase in drone sightings, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) President & CEO Brian Wynne said, “The proliferation of irresponsible UAS flights underscores the need for the FAA to finalize its small UAS rules and more aggressively enforce existing regulations.
Wynne added that, “Meanwhile, the FAA needs to finalize its small UAS rules, which would require all UAS operators to follow the safety programming of a community-based organization or abide by new UAS rules for commercial operators. Once the rules are finalized, consumers will no longer be able to fly without any oversight or education.”
Finally, Wynne stated that, “AUVSI has been working closely with the Academy of Model Aeronautics and the FAA since last year on the ‘Know Before You Fly’ campaign to educate newcomers to UAS technology about where they should and should not fly. Safety is a top priority for the industry and a shared responsibility for all UAS stakeholders. It’s critical that we continue to work together to ensure the safety of the airspace for all aircraft – manned and unmanned.”