FAA's awful drone app B4UFLY to undergo private sector revamp

"As near as I can tell, no part of this app is completely functional and most of the parts that do work just open a website inside the app."


Can a stodgy bureaucracy also do cutting edge app development? The folks at the FAA, the well-meaning heel to U.S.-based drone advocates, is ready to admit that the answer is ... no, not really.

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The app in question is called B4UFLY. Aimed at recreational drone users, its purpose is to help people decipher FAA recreational flight rules in the real world by pointing out where they can fly. The idea is solid: Drone rules can make even the most seasoned pilot's eyes glaze over and compliance is predicated on understanding.

But the resulting product missed the mark. The app has a 1.5/5 rating in the iOS App Store. Here's a delightful selection of user reviews to underline the point:

"As near as I can tell, no part of this app is completely functional and most of the parts that do work just open a website inside the app." - IrritableBadger

"Exactly what I expected from a govt app. Nearly useless except to tell you that your breaking the law." -RawLiquid

"Really? Does the government want UAV pilots to take them serious (especially the novice)?" - Tx4Runner

"Where do I begin with how terrible this application is?" - David O in Tacoma

So the FAA is looking for a little outside help. Kittyhawk, a commercial drone logistics company, is stepping into the fray with a public-private partnership to redevelop B4UFLY. 

It's a nice bit of cozying up to the regulators on the part of Kittyhawk, whose drone management platform helps operations manage drone fleets that do things like infrastructure inspection. The FAA will have ultimate say over how commercial drone use evolves in the U.S. As it considers relaxing rule making to be more permissive of drone delivery, for example, it will seek private sector input. It will also likely expand pilot programs with select private sector partners, and Kittyhawk is saving its place in line.

Kittyhawk is an approved UAS Service Supplier that's able to offer authorizations for commercial operators to fly in controlled airspace via the FAA's LAANC program. LAANC is the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability, which provides access to controlled airspace near airports through near real-time processing of airspace authorizations below approved altitudes.

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"Our primary focus at Kittyhawk is safety," Kittyhawk wrote in a recent post on Medium. "We know that the future of a successful integration of drones into the National Airspace (NAS) depends upon a strong foundation of safety. This means giving pilots the information they need in a precise, reliable and concise format. Kittyhawk will be leveraging our recently released Dynamic Airspace product to power the new and improved B4UFLY mobile app."

Notably, Kittyhawk is serves enterprise drone clients and B4UFLY is aimed at recreational users. The company says improving safety in the recreational sector will have a bleed over effect into enterprise by reducing incidents such as airport closures due to drone usage.

"Our goal is for our enterprise customers to be flying as much as possible. Flights don't happen easier or more frequently when negligent operators are shutting down airports, breaching Presidential TFR's, or endangering our national security."

No word when the original B4UFLY, which was developed in 2016, will be replaced by the new version.

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