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May 6, 2015 | News

FAA looks to expand drone horizons while ensuring safety

The Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) is furthering its commitment to safely implement drones into the national airspace with a number of announcements made today at AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems conference in Atlanta. First, the agency announced a new initiative to work with industry leaders to figure out the next steps for drones beyond the proposed regulations.

?[The] government has some [of] the best and brightest minds in aviation, but we can”T operate in a vacuum,” said Anthony Foxx, U.S. Secretary of the Transportation. “This is a big job, and we”Ll get to our goal of safe, widespread UAS integration more quickly by leveraging the resources and expertise of the industry.”

The initiative will include three focus areas, each headed by an industry partner. CNN, which has already been working with the FAA through a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, will explore visual line-of-sight operations in urban areas and look at how to integrate drones for newsgathering safely into the airspace.

PrecisionHawk will look at extending visual line of sight in rural areas, and how using drones that fly outside of an operator’s direct vision will help benefit agricultural operations such as crop monitoring.

BNSF Railway will be studying beyond visual line of sight in rural and isolated areas, and at the command-and-control challenges for using drones to inspect rail system infrastructure.

“Even as we pursue our current rulemaking effort for small unmanned aircraft, we must continue to actively look for future ways to expand non-recreational UAS uses,” said Michael Huerta, administrator for the FAA. “This new initiative involving three leading U.S. companies will help us anticipate and address the needs of the evolving UAS industry.”

In addition, the FAA announced a new smartphone application designed to inform drone flyers whether or not it is legal to fly their drones in their area. B4UFLY will provide users up-to-date information on restrictions or requirements needed to fly drones. The FAA developed this application because technology has made it possible for anyone without any prior aviation experience to fly a drone, and they need to be educated to ensure safe operations, according to Huerta.

“The U.S. has the most complicated airspace in the world,” he said. “We need to make sure that hobbyists and modelers know where it is okay to fly and where it isn”T okay to fly.”

The application features the latest FAA data; flight-screen status that shows users whether there are any restrictions in their area or pre-flight precautions they need to take; details on why an area may be prohibited; a map that shows restricted airspace; airport details and contact information; and the ability to plan out future flights.

“While there are other apps that provide model aircraft enthusiasts with various types of data, we believe B4UFLY has the most user-friendly interface and the most up-to-date information,” said Huerta.

B4UFLY will roll out to 1,000 iOS beta testers this summer; an Android version is expected to follow.