FAA Starts Beta Testing App That Tells Drone Pilots Where They Are Allowed To Fly

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iPhone-6-3Earlier this year, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that it would soon start beta testing an app that would help drone flyers understand where they can and — more importantly — can’t fly. Today, the FAA announced a few more details about the app and launched the first beta version of the aptly named B4UFLY app for iOS.

Sadly, though, this is still a private beta test that will likely run for two months. For now, the app will be iOS-only, with an Android version to follow at an unspecified date.

It looks like the private beta is currently oversubscribed, but you can still get on the waiting list by emailing b4ufly@faa.gov to request an invite.

Judging by the screenshots the FAA posted today, the app is going to be pretty easy to use. The main purpose of the app is to tell you whether you are too close to an airport, in a national park (where drone flights are now forbidden), or another restricted area to fly your drone (or “unmanned aerial vehicle” or “remote controlled quadcopter” if you don’t like the word “drone”).

The app will let you both plan future flights and check whether there’s any issue with your current location. That’s about it — but that’s also all you really need to know.

If you’re within five miles of an airport, you can only fly after you notify the airport operator or talk to air traffic control. Chances are you don’t want to do that, so you better stay out of those areas. The FAA says future versions of the app will include a system for notifying air traffic control of your intent to fly within this five-mile zone.

Because this is such a problem for drone pilots who don’t want to end up in local news reports, a number of services and apps like Hover have sprung up over the last few years that also show drone pilots where they can and can’t fly. DJI’s Phantom drones won’t even take off if they are in some restricted drones. Chances are, though, that an official authoritative app from the FAA will give pilots a lot more confidence than third-party services.

And because it’s that time of the year — remember to never fly your drone close to a wildfire either.