Air Aware update includes all B4UFLY required data sets — but it’s not an approved service provider

It was quite a week in the realm of B4UFly. Aloft’s partnership with the FAA formally ended. The FAA then effectively replaced Aloft with four, new approved service providers. And to round it out, Aloft on Friday dropped a mega Air Aware update.

What’s kind of incredible about the new Air Aware update? It includes all B4UFLY required data sets. That’s all despite not actually being one of the four, officially FAA-endorsed, B4UFly service providers.

What’s new with the Air Aware update

Aloft, the San Francisco-based drone software startup that powered the FAA’s B4UFly app between 2019 and early 2024. But in early 2024, Aloft announced its contract with the FAA was up. Instead, it would launch a new app called Air Aware in partnership with Pilot Institute. The Air Aware app offers real-time insights before, during, and after drone operations.

And on February 2, 2024 — a day after the FAA announced its new B4UFly service providers — Aloft announced a fresh update to the Air Aware app. The update is pretty impressive.

B4UFly data: Perhaps most central to the update is the integration of all FAA-required B4UFLY data layers. That means app users receive detailed information on Military Training Routes and Recreational Fixed Sites. And, Aloft promises that the information comes from official FAA sources and will always be up to date.

FRIA data: The app also has a list of FAA Recognized Identification Areas (FRIA) integrated into its maps.

FRIAS are areas where the FAA does not require you to fly using Remote ID capability (in short, you won’t have to broadcast your drone’s flying information, and you won’t need an expensive Remote ID module). There are about 2,000 FRIAs across the U.S., and more are expected to come. Aloft says it’ll continuously update its app to display them.

How Aloft fits into the B4UFly landscape

The FAA’s B4UFLY service is critically in clearing spelling out where recreational flyers can and cannot fly drones. While the FAA at one point tried building such a service itself, it wasn’t as robust as what private companies could do — which is why Aloft began powering the service in 2019.

The partnership lasted five years. And now, that partnership is over, thus Aloft has parted ways with the FAA as an official B4UFly provider. Yet, it is still building a separate app that offers B4UFly data.

“As many have noted to us, we haven’t just built the replacement for B4UFLY, but the next generation of situational awareness,” according to a blog post from Aloft.

Aloft said that, during the five years it powered the FAA’s B4UFly app, it served millions of unique drone pilots across a collective 33 million airspace searches.

“While we’ve moved on to this new platform that will enable us to offer more complete and robust solutions, we’re bringing all of that knowledge, experience, scale, and security to Air Aware,” according to Aloft’s blog post about the Air Aware update.

You can download Aloft’s Air Aware app here.

Who are the FAA-approved B4UFly service providers?

Aloft previously powered B4UFly.

“As our 5-year unpaid contract (including two extensions) came to expiration, Aloft was a proponent of expanding the program,” Aloft CEO Jon Hegranes told The Drone Girl.

But the FAA’s approach — which was opening up the new approved service providers to those that are already approved to offer LAANC services — wasn’t exactly what Aloft wanted.

“The shortfall of the new solution is that it is a small subset of all USS’s. A superset of new communities would have been a far more impactful approach. What if the AMA, FPVFC, or even Drone Girl had their own “B4UFLY” apps? That is the way to expand awareness and start to solve the recreational compliance challenges.”

Those USS’s, which also offer LAANC services, are:

  • Airspace Link
  • AutoPylot
  • Avision
  • UAS Sidekick

The FAA also is not paying the four B4UFly service providers, meaning they are self-funded. While the FAA stipulates that the actual B4UFly component must be free for drone pilots to use, many monetize their apps in other ways. For example, AutoPylot also sells insurance through its same B4UFly app, while UAS Sidekick heavily leans into a more advanced subscription offering.

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