FAA Backs Major Drone Research Efforts, Mobile Flight Planning App
The app will determine the flight restrictions in the immediate area and will display the information on an iPhone screen. Additional features include remote flight planning, so the operator can see what restrictions might be in force for a planned flight, away from their immediate location. A similar Android app is also in development. The "b4ufly" app will show the location of nearby airports, provide contact information for the operator of any airport and it will graphically show restricted flight areas, so you won't be able to say that you didn't know the White House was there when you launch your drone near Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. However, the app isn't available yet. It will be launched into a beta test program in mid-summer 2015. The FAA is looking for beta test volunteers who can contact the agency at email@example.com. There's no word yet on how the FAA will select successful applicants, although current plans are for at least 700 of the beta testers to be from the public. Meanwhile, the FAA is continuing its existing rulemaking process. The agency has published draft rules and has been receiving comments from the public. An FAA spokesman said that the comment period has already closed and that the agency is trying to maintain an extremely aggressive schedule in moving forward by the end of 2015.Considering the number of reports from airline pilots who are having near-misses with drones as they take off or land at airports, it's clear that some kind of regulation is required. While it's not clear that a typical hobbyist drone weighing less than a pound can do the same damage to an aircraft that can be done by a 15-pound Canada goose (the bird species that caused U.S. Air Flight 1549 to land in the Hudson River), it's also not at all clear that damage by such unmanned aircraft would be trivial. By releasing the new app, and by creating rules that allow drones to be operated safely, the FAA is taking a common-sense approach to safety. No doubt that common sense seems far too slow to people eager to start flying drones, but the fact is that anyone operating any type of aircraft in an area with other aircraft takes on significant responsibility. It's critical that such responsibility be handled by people who know what they're doing.
The two initiatives announced by the FAA are attempts to stay ahead of the rapid developments in drone technology. While progress is much too slow for some advocates that would like to start freely flying drones immediately, the fact is that the FAA is required to make sure that all flights in the U.S. are conducted safely.