Those who want to fly unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) safely and courteously now have a mobile app they can use to check on federal restrictions in the nation’s airspace.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced the release of the B4UFLY app in January 2016, offering an updated version of the app for Apple devices and beta testing a version for Android devices. The app uses geolocation to notify UAV operators when they are in an area with flight restrictions in effect or within five miles of an airport, airfield, helipad or landing strip.
The app uses a status indicator that shows one of the following conditions to users: “Proceed with Caution,” “Warning – Action Required” or “Flight Prohibited.” A planning mode allows users to select a time and location for upcoming flights to determine if there are projected restrictions. The app also includes interactive maps with filtering options, as well as links to other FAA resources and regulatory information.
The app’s goal is to reduce in-air collisions and other mishaps. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement that the agency hopes the app will raise public awareness and encourage a “culture of safety” among those who operate UAVs, also known as unmanned aerial systems.
In order to prevent collisions with manned aircraft, operators who plan to fly their UAVs within five miles of an airport are required by law to contact the airport and air traffic control facility in advance.
Operators can file flight plans through the app, though that does not satisfy the statutory requirements for notifying local airports. Instead, the data will help the FAA make policy decisions; the agency says the information will not be made public.
The app comes as the FAA has turned increased attention toward the safety of unmanned aerial systems.
In December 2015, the regulatory agency began requiring users to register UAVs weighing between .55 pounds and 55 pounds that are used solely for recreational or hobby purposes. Registration information includes the operator’s name, and mailing, physical and email addresses.
Vehicle owners receive an identification number that must be displayed on any unmanned aircraft they operate, according to the FAA. The registration is valid for three years and costs $5.
In an effort to boost registration, the FAA waived the fee during the first 30 days, an incentive that ended in January. During that period, nearly 300,000 owners of unmanned aircraft registered.
The agency said it hopes to open the online registration system to commercial operators of UAVs by March 2016.