FAA Releases B4UFLY App to Help UAS Pilots

Posted by Kerry 01/08/2016 3 Comment(s) News,

The FAA has finally made the new B4UFLY app public with the hopes of making UAS/Drone operation safer for everyone. We pop open the app to see how it worked in a few different locations.

Since we are in Las Vegas for CES, we started with our current location. It was no surprise to that we were sitting in a restricted zone. The center of the Las Vegas strip is surrounded by airports and heliports and it appears that we are sitting pretty much dead center of all of the overlapping circles.

The app can be used to get information about your current location or using the planning tool, you can look at a spot you want to go fly at.

While the app seems to work ok and doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out, the problem with it right now seems to be a bit of information overload. We are seeing numerous reports of people seeing airports and heliports in places where none seem to exist and certainly many that are private airfields that are not manned, and therefor do not require notification. 

If the FAA can clean up the data to being just truly relevant ones, than B4UFLY could actually become a useful tool.

Another annoying issue is that if you do happen to be in an actual area that requires you to notify the tower or air traffic control, there is no contact information listed. Given that this is a smartphone app, it would seem very appropriate to have a "click to call", "click to email", or in-app notification tool. 

The picture shown here is from pretty much the center of the Las Vegas Strip and you can see that the location I am in is actually contained within 8 "notification" areas as well as the restricted area around Mccarren Airport.

My Local Area

Fortunately, I live outside of a major city with no major airports around me, so surely my map will show nothing at all...ooops....guess not.

 

Whoa whoa whoa whoa....my favorite flying spot is within FOUR airports? This can't be right can it? Time to do a little research. The three "airports" listed are private landing strips on private property. They are not tower controlled and three of them, the owner asked that their airstrip not be put on any charts. One of the heliports is in a person's backyard who owns a helicopter, who also requested their location not be on any charts. The other heliport is at a hospital and it is unclear if I actually need to provide notification to them.

Room for Improvement

It would be easy to bash the FAA for putting out an app that might actually create more questions than answers today but I think we should look at it as an early attempt at creating what could become an actually useful tool. While the app is a good start, there is always going to be room for improvement and I hope that this is something the FAA actually puts some resources into to make it better. In the meantime I would consider this to be a "beta" version and not be too critical of it until we see the direction they head with it.

If anyone from the FAA development team is reading this, I'll summarize some of the things that many of us would like to see:

  • Remove airports and heliports that are too small to require notification
  • Provide contact information for locations that require notification
  • Work on the planner a little, its obnoxious to plan a location many miles away
  • Add pop-up notifications around favorite locations to warn of temporary no fly zone restrictions

The B4UFLY app is now available for both IOS and Android, check your respective app store.

3 Comment(s)

Gary Mount:
01/08/2016, 01:22:12 PM
Reply

It doesnt work for Android as of 1/8/16 When I look it up in Google Play it say No Results found

Kerry Garrison:
01/09/2016, 07:59:57 AM

It doesn't seem to be available on all Android devices during the current testing phase.

Justin Bregar:
01/09/2016, 01:33:20 PM
Reply

The problem with releasing this with all of those extraneous locations is its going to lose credibility, even if they fix it someday. A bit of boy who cried wolf syndrome.

Mike:
01/14/2016, 05:05:01 PM
Reply

I couldn't find the Android app in Google Play, either. I went to the link at the FAA site https://www.faa.gov/uas/b4ufly/ agreed to be a beta tester, and it gave me the link to the app. All those airports shown in the app are in the FAA master database of airports. To the FAA, an airport is an airport, regardless of size, tower, chart status, usage, etc. I can't find anything that limits the definition of airport in the FAA UAS rules, so that's why the app shows all the airports. The FAA needs to refine the airport contact rules. The actual law says that you have to contact the operator of the airport AND the tower, if it has one. The app definitely needs to provide the contact info for the airports. FWIW, here are the official FAA defiinitions (14CFR1.1): Airport means an area of land or water that is used or intended to be used for the landing and takeoff of aircraft, and includes its buildings and facilities, if any. Aircraft means a device that is used or intended to be used for flight in the air.

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