The Federal Aviation Administration’s B4UFly program just got a major overhaul — and it now involves four B4UFly approved service providers. Up until now, the B4UFly program entailed a single desktop and mobile application powered by a private drone company called Aloft.
But Aloft’s role in powering B4UFLY is no more. Now, there are different companies providing B4UFLY services through their own desktop and mobile applications, rather than one tied specifically to the FAA. As of the Feb. 1, 2024 relaunch, there are four of them. Those four are:
- Airspace Link
- UAS Sidekick
All four B4UFly approved service providers offer apps for iOS and Android. Additionally, all three except AutoPylot currently offer desktop apps.
So what do you get when you use one of these four B4UFly approved service providers? Each will offer:
- Information about controlled airspace, special use airspace, critical infrastructure, airports, national parks and military training routes.
- Information about Temporary Flight Restrictions for special events.
- Clear status indicators that show whether it is safe to fly or not (e.g. a visual clearly showing that flying around Washington, D.C. is prohibited).
- Informative, interactive maps with filtering options.
- The ability to check whether it is safe to fly in different locations by searching for a location or moving the location pin.
- Links to other FAA drone resources.
Additionally, the FAA requires that all services offer free access to B4UFly services — all without even needing to hand over a login or make an account in order to be able to access flight information.
But beyond that, each service provider has their own unique spin. All have monetization goals (hey, that’s business). But all those monetization strategies are different. One sells insurance. Many target enterprise drone operators via more robust software offerings via paid subscription models. All are based in the U.S.
Here’s what to know about the 4 B4UFly approved service providers:
Headquarters: Detroit, Michigan
What they do: Airspace Link builds digital infrastructure to integrate drones into the national airspace. In short, they’re working on a system to build a type of air traffic control service for drones. You might know them from their AirHub Portal, which is a free app that targets both recreational and Part 107 pilots to help them understand their airspace, plan their operations and quickly apply for authorization when flying in controlled airspace through the LAANC program.
Other ways they monetize their business: For the enterprise tier, their big business is AirHub Insights for Business. The program ingests data sets including Esri GIS data, authoritative data sets from federal, state and local governments, and proprietary third parties. It then is able to turn a mass of data into what in theory are more actionable insights to inform planning, decision making and operations. Airspace Link also has a system designed for state and local governments.
Headquarters: Burlington, Vermont
What they do: AutoPylot offers all-in-one flight planning for drone pilots by way of putting airspace, LAANC, weather, and mission management data in one place. One of their big differentiators is bringing in detailed, flight-specific weather conditions including flight variables, hourly forecasts, 10-day forecasts and visual wind/precipitation maps.
Other ways they monetize their business: Their other business venture is offering drone insurance. Though federal or state law does not require that you hold drone insurance to fly drones in the U.S., some clients might require it. AutoPylot itself is not a licensed insurance broker. Instead, it partners with insurance giant Allianz to sell insurance coverage. Allianz offers that insurance through Brokery, LLC and it starts at $44 per month or $450 per year.
Headquarters: Santa Monica, CA
What they do: Avision builds a web and mobile application for drone operations management. Avision has integrated both LAANC and B4UFLY into the app, which is helpful if you need to receive approval to fly in controlled airspace (under 400’).
Other ways they monetize their business: Avision’s bread and butter is focusing on commercial and government customers. With that, Avision offers another product called Avision UTM. That system is basically a much more advanced version of the free app. It integrates with FAA / ANSP systems, Supplemental Data Service Providers (SDSPs), Public Safety and other USSs. With such robust data, it’s able to display operation volumes as four-dimensional (4D) shapes. That can be useful in enabling Avision USS to de-conflict operations prior to and during the flight, which can be critical for certain types of drone flights.
Headquarters: Landrum, South Carolina
What they do: UAS Sidekick is an app for commercial or hobby pilots to submit LAANC, NOTAM’s or UOA’s to the FAA and Flight Service. Though the app is largely centered around a subscription model, UAS Sidekick doesn’t actually require that you have a subscription to access the B4UFly aspect. That’s because B4UFLY interactivity is available on its website prior to logging in — should you choose not to make an account.
Other ways they monetize their business: That same app does heavily emphasize a subscription model. With no subscription, you’re basically just getting B4UFly services. From there, there’s a free trial, which allows you to file three flight plans. If you need more than three, you’ll need to subscribe with a monthly, six-month or yearly option.
What else to know about the revamped B4UFly program
The FAA’s B4UFLY service is designed to show where recreational flyers can and cannot fly drones. After all, given the number of sometimes random airspace restrictions, it can be complicated for a novice drone pilot to know if they can even fly in their own backyard at times.
Each of the four companies named above as B4UFly approved service providers are also FAA-approved UAS Service Suppliers of the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability. That’s perhaps not surprising, given that being a LAANC provider was a requirement first before being able to become an approved LAANc provider.
What happened to Aloft?
As far as Aloft, the company that formerly powered the official FAA B4UFly app, they’re doing their own thing. While they’re still a LAANC UAS service provider, they’re now focused on their new app called Air Aware. That app is made in partnership with Pilot Institute. It’s a more robust than the app that Aloft was powering for the FAA.
Which of these B4UFly approved service providers will you be using? Tell us why you chose that one in the comments below.