The increasing number of privately-operated drones (a.k.a. "unmanned aircraft systems") is an ongoing concern for U.S. Federal Aviation Administration officials, as the unpredictable flying machines can pose safety concerns for nearby aircraft, inadvertently violate "no-fly zones," and interfere with active law enforcement operations. While operators already need to register their drones with the FAA, the Administration hopes to make the skies safer with the launch this week of B4UFLY, an official iOS app that allows drone operators to check their flight plans against various warnings, rules, and restrictions before they take to the air.
The FAA has been testing the B4UFLY app since last May, and finally released the public version to the iOS App Store on Wednesday. Based on the user's location, the app can provide warnings about flight restrictions (e.g., operating drones in Washington, D.C., flying too close to active airport flight paths) and includes helpful data such as local laws and airport contact information.
Users can also access the app's Flight Planner function, which allows them to plot a future flight with GPS coordinates or via a live map and then receive notices ahead of time about any potential issues with the timing or route of the flight.
In addition to the pure utility of the app for drone owners, the FAA hopes that the app's presence on popular mobile platforms will help raise awareness about the safety concerns of privately-operated drones and the importance of operating drones responsibly. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta remarked on the app's release while attending CES in Las Vegas this week:
We expect B4UFLY will help raise public awareness about what it means to operate unmanned aircraft safely. It is another important part of our education and awareness efforts to foster a culture of safety and accountability for the UAS community.
The B4UFLY app is available now from the iOS App Store, and requires iOS 8.0 or higher. A version for Android is still in testing, and interested users can sign up to participate in the beta program at the Google Play Store.