The FAA B4UFly app is set to see some big changes in the new year. Most notably, it’s no longer going to be managed by Aloft, the privately-owned startup that has been powering it since 2019.
The B4UFly app is the centerpiece of the Federal Aviation Administration’s B4UFly program. The B4UFly program was designed to help beginner or recreational pilots understand where they can and cannot fly.
But while Aloft will stop powering the B4UFly app, the B4UFly program is hardly going away. In fact, it’s getting bigger. Rather than relying on just a single partnership (as it had been doing with Aloft), it looks like the next version of B4UFly will incorporate partnerships with multiple private companies.
“The B4UFLY program is not going away, it’s actually expanding,” FAA spokesperson Rick Breitenfeldt told The Drone Girl. “The FAA is partnering with several companies who will integrate airspace awareness with airspace authorizations.”
Breitenfeldt said to expect more information on the FAA’s website soon.
The history of Aloft’s relationship with the FAA
Aloft had been powering the FAA’s B4UFly app since 2019. Prior to that, the FAA B4UFly app was created and operated entirely by the FAA. With the Aloft presence came a mega relaunch that entailed a more user-friendly view of what real-time airspace restrictions are in effect in the U.S. It also brought in easier-to-understand airspace guidance that included ‘Good to Go,’ ‘Warning’ and ‘Do Not Fly’ labels.
That was an extremely welcome change for the app, which at the time had a painfully low rating of just 1.5/5 on the Apple app store and an even more abysmal rating of 1.5/5 on the Android App store on Google Play.
Ever since Aloft swooped in, reviews improved. Today, the app has a 3.9 star rating with Apple and a 4.0 rating on Google Play.
What’s next for Aloft? A new app called Air Aware
While Aloft’s work in powering the FAA’s B4UFly app is no more, Aloft is hardly ending its role in the field of airspace awareness for drone pilots.
In fact, it’s just announced a new partnership that could potentially make it even bigger. On Dec. 17, Aloft announced the launch of Air Aware, an all-new app made in partnership with a company called Pilot Institute (more on them later). The Air Aware app offers real-time insights before, during, and after drone operations.
“It’s been an honor working with the FAA over the last 5 years to power B4UFLY with Aloft’s UTM and airspace system,” Aloft founder and CEO Jon Hegranes told The Drone Girl. “We learned a lot over that time and we’re looking forward to bringing that knowledge and experience to a new app with a new partner in Pilot Institute.”
Aloft is calling their new app a replacement to the B4UFly app. Whereas the old app mostly focused on conditions before takeoff, Hegranes said the new and improved app is all about “redefining situational awareness to encompass the entire flight lifecycle.”
According to Hegranes, there is a lot that Aloft wasn’t able to do with B4UFly, like enabling a sign so pilots can store their certificates, which he said was a highly requested feature.
“In the new Air Aware app, we’re listening closely and actively soliciting feedback for where we should take the platform,” he said to The Drone Girl.
In fact, Hegranes said they’ve already received hundreds of submissions for requested app features. He said you can submit your own app feature requests here.
With the new Air Aware app, you can still expect some similar features as you’ll find in the B4UFly app, including Notify & Fly. It also includes Air Control – for advanced fleet, team, and airspace management, and Geo – for public safety and other verified agencies to publish safety and compliance information directly onto the Aloft airspace maps.
“You’ll still have official Aloft airspace information in Air Aware, but you’ll be seeing a lot of new functionality that just wasn’t possible before,” Hegranes said.
Aloft partners with Pilot Institute
Pilot Institute, which claims to have trained over 250,000 drone and airplane pilots across the United States, is among the handful of FAA-approved TRUST providers. Short for the Recreational Unmanned Aircraft Systems Safety Test, TRUST is a requirement for hobby drone pilots in the U.S. With it, hobby pilots need to go through the course and simply online quiz through any of the TRUST-approved organizations, which include Pilot Institute, UAV Coach, The Boy Scouts of America and others.
Among Pilot Institutes offerings beyond the Aloft partnership include courses on:
- Part 107 test prep
- Drone photography
- How to run a drone business
- How to become a private pilot
- Instrument ratings
- How to prepare for your checkride
Aloft said it will no longer issue updates to the B4UFLY application. Instead, Aloft will focus on Air Aware.
“With Air Aware, and our partner in Pilot Institute, we think we can have a bigger impact on this segment of drone pilots than we could before by being able to offer a more complete and integrated application and suite of capabilities and content,” Hegranes said.
What about the current FAA B4UFly app?
Even though Aloft has moved on, the current B4UFly app is still available for download and in good, working condition.
“In the meantime, drone operators should continue to use the current B4UFLY app,” Breitenfeldt said.
Without Aloft, it simply means there won’t be any more new updates made by Aloft to the app. Of course, Aloft is certainly not severing ties with the FAA.
“Going forward, we continue to look forward to working closely with the FAA to promote the safe integration of drones into the National Airspace System (NAS) and provide amazing tools and technologies for all drone pilots,” Hegranes said. “Drones (recreational and commercial) already represent the largest number of pilots and aircraft in the NAS, and Aloft will continue to advocate for the rights and abilities for these pilots to access and share the airspace.”
What about LAANC?
Should you need to fly under 400 feet in controlled airspace around airports, there’s also still the ongoing LAANC program. LAANC, which stands for “Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability” is a system that enables drone pilots to request automatic approval to fly in places where they typically cannot without such approval.
About a dozen companies partner with the FAA to provide that automatic approval. The apps work by checking requests against airspace data sources such as UAS Facility Maps, Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) and Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) to decide whether it’s safe for pilots to fly in those areas.
You can see the full list of FAA-approved partners who provide near-real time airspace authorizations and information here.
Among those approved partners includes, yes, Aloft. In fact, Aloft is the No. 1 FAA-approved LAANC service supplier in terms of number of airspace authorizations issued. Aloft achieved a milestone with 1 million LAANC airspace authorizations in September 2023. It also announced it had surpassed 30 million B4UFLY airspace safety searches around that same time.
LAANC is currently not a feature in the current B4UFly app, nor is it in the Air Aware app. (It wasn’t possible in the FAA-partnered version because of the no user registration potential). But, Hegranes hinted that native LAANC functionality (as opposed to linking to the Aloft Air Control apps or website) is a feature being explored in the new app.