The Federal Aviation Administration’s B4UFLY mobile application is getting an overhaul. But rather than FAA contractors or employees taking the lead on redoing the app, a San Francisco-based startup is taking the reigns.
The FAA selected Kittyhawk to lead development in an exclusive public-private partnership of the next iteration of the B4UFly app for drones, and the app will actually be powered by Kittyhawk’s Platform.
B4UFLY is a free app that was intended to “help drone operators operate compliantly with FAA rules and regulations.”
But out of 180 reviews, it has an average rating of just 1.5/5 on the iTunes app store, and an even more abysmal rating of 1.5/5 out of 1,107 reviews on the Android App store on Google Play.
Customers have called the current version of the app slow and glitchy, citing issues such as the app thinking they’re near and airport when they actually aren’t, and a lack of clarity whether operators can actually fly in a specific area (which is one of the primary reasons to download the app).
Kittyhawk founder Joshua Ziering said the new, Kittyhawk-ified app will look quite different and will not be leveraging any of the existing code base — referring to it as “freshly baked” in an interview with The Drone Girl. Ziering said the Kittyhawk team has already started working on the technical requirements and scoping, and is aiming to deliver something to the FAA by the middle of the year.
The app will leverage the startup’s recently released Dynamic Airspace product to power the new B4UFLY mobile app. Dynamic Airspace is a feature released by Kittyhawk earlier this month that enables teams to look at your airspace, see your authorizations, locations, annotations, and the points of interest relevant to those company in one place, with the intent to bring greater situational awareness to drone flights.
The app will remain free for users.
Ziering also added that features like remote Identification and the implementation of a UTM system could be included in future iterations of the app, depending on how FAA policies shake out.
The Kittyhawk-FAA B4UFly app partnership is a 3-year exclusive deal that was formed out of a request for information posted by the FAA last summer. Kittyhawk responded to the request and, after a series of qualifying interviews, was selected.
Kittyhawk has historically focused most of its efforts on the enterprise side of drones, but the B4UFly app is primarily targeted at hobby/enthusiast drone pilots.
“The careful observer might ask why we’ve chosen to work on B4UFLY when Kittyhawk’s focus is purely enterprise solutions,” Ziering said in a prepared statement. “We believe that Kittyhawk needs to be building our industry alongside of our company. 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.”
The public-private partnership between the FAA and Kittyhawk is likely to be a big win for the Bay Area startup, which has already seen massive growth this year.
The terms of the partnership promise that “private entities would have access to (the FAA’s subject matter resources and regulatory experts), as well as access to official FAA data sources and authoritative interpretation….Partners would have access to, or could potentially take over management/ownership of, that API, depending on the partnership model proposed. Partners could also promote their close collaboration with the FAA on UAS safety and education.”
Kittyhawk has already been working to maintain its position as a leader in drone regulatory policy, having participated in projects such as a remote identification demonstration alongside tech giants like Project Wing (the drone arm of X, the company formerly known as Google) and serving as a LAANC service provider in the FAA’s Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) project.
Kittyhawk was founded in March 2015 by Joshua Ziering and Jon Hegranes. The company started as a post-flight logging utility, and later moved into more aspects of operations, including mission planning, pre-flight checklists, ability to see live flight traffic and flight logging. The company now has funding from Boeing’s HorizonX and other investors including Bonfire Ventures and Freestyle Capital.