FAA’s Drone Operations App is Getting a Makeover

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A new version of B4UFLY, an app to help drone operators follow FAA rules, is coming soon.

The Federal Aviation Administration is partnering with Kittyhawk, a Boeing-backed San Francisco-based drone operations startup, to redevelop and revamp its first mobile application, B4UFLY.

The free app aims to help drone pilots comply with FAA rules and regulations when they fly.

“We want to provide drone pilots with the best tools possible so they fly safely and responsibly,” FAA Administrator Dan Elwell said in a statement. “As drone sales increase and our nation's airspace becomes busier and more complex, it's vital that we work smarter and partner with the private sector to develop innovative products that advance safety.”

The original B4UFLY app launched in 2016 and has been marred by low-star reviews since its inception. The app currently holds 1.5 out of 5 stars in Apple’s iOS app store. Users fault the app for operating slowly, having glitches, and offering unclear information.

“I really, really, really hope this was a big mistake and the wrong version got put on the App Store,” one user wrote in a review. “This is supposed to be part of the larger UAS safety initiative and if this is any reflection on the rest of the programs we should move into underground shelters.”

Kittyhawk has been an FAA Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability UAS Service Supplier since October 2018. The company prides itself on powering over 500,000 safe and compliant commercial drone flights in the United States to date and says it’s served tens of millions of requests for airspace information through their own application, supporting both commercial and hobbyist drone operators.

“We’ve helped scale and power the largest teams of commercial operators in the world, and now we’re looking forward to leveraging that capability to continually improve B4UFLY,” Joshua Ziering, Kittyhawk’s founder, said in a statement.

He also said through the FAA’s LAANC onboarding process, Kittyhawk learned that the “the capability to source airspace data from the FAA directly, creates opportunity to vastly improve flying experiences for all kinds of operators.”

Kittyhawk focuses primarily on enterprise solutions, but this partnership is aimed at pilots who fly drones recreationally. Ziering said the partnership was enticing because Kittyhawk recognizes that it will be best served if the team helps build their industry alongside their company.

“Our goal is for our enterprise customers to be flying as much as possible,” Ziering wrote in the announcement. “Flights don’t happen easier or more frequently when negligent operators are shutting down airports, breaching Presidential [temporary flight restrictions], or endangering our national security.”

The next version of the app will launch later this year.