B4UFly and AirMap

Learning where you can, and cannot fly is a basic part of learning to pilot a drone. To aid this there are several mobile applications that a pilot can use to check the airspace status of a potential flying site. Just scroll that map and select a site to see the warnings.

Flying the Drone
Flying the Mavic Air on Mauna Kea
First there is the official FAA app B4UFly available for both iOS and Android. There is also a notable alternative in AirMap, a third party application that uses the FAA database to accomplish the same task.

I have downloaded and used both for flight planning applications around the island. The island of Hawaiʻi offers some spectacular scenery that has made learning to fly the drone quite enjoyable.

Basically the official FAA B4UFly application sucks. A blunt expression, but appropriate, it truly does.

The first thing you notice in B4UFly is that restricted airspace does not immediately appear on the map as you scroll around. You have to click on a potential area and wait for up to a minute to see any airspace restrictions. This could easily lead a drone operator to believe that an area is not restricted, when in fact it is.

AirMap has no such difficulty, all warnings appear immediately on a selected map view. On B4UFly you need to tap on a site before restrictions appear, some do not appear until you attempt to plan a flight, and some do not appear at all.

B4UFly Screenshot
B4UFly screenshot showing the notable lack of a TFR over the eruption site in Puna
While planning a morning flight in the Saddle region between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea I noticed that the Pōhakuloa Training Area is simply not shown. This is a military installation! The area is covered by a permanent flight restriction area!

Bradshaw Field, the airstrip at Pōhakuloa, is shown properly, while the practice range boundaries did not appear when I selected a location on the Mauna Loa Access road where I planned to fly. I was within drone range of the PTA military restricted airspace and received no warning of that!

Doing an experiment I tried to plan a flight inside PTA airspace and the range boundaries finally appeared as a no fly zone in the app. Even if simply near a restricted area it would be nice to know!

AirMap Screenshot
An AirMap screenshot showing the current TFR over the eruption site in Puna
Another glaring problem with B4UFly is that temporary flight restrictions do not necessarily appear. As I write this there is a large TFR in place over the ongoing eruption in lower Puna. This no-fly zone simply does not appear in B4UFly, but does appear in AirMap.

This TFR over the eruption is an official FAA TFR covered by NOTAM 8/3812, which can be read on the FAA website. Why is it not shown on the B4UFly map?!? There is even a list of active NOTAMS in B4UFly, NOTAM 8/3812 is missing from that list.

Local authorities are vigorously enforcing the no-drone restriction over the eruption area, having cited several pilots and seized aircraft. I wonder if they can use the lack of warnings in the official FAA drone planning application as a defense in court?

A view from AirMap showing the major flight restrictions on the Island of Hawaii
When there is a restriction shown AirMap provides far better information as to the nature of the restriction. The type and rules regarding that restriction are shown in pop-up windows at the bottom of the display. These windows include the phone numbers of airport operators so you can contact the airport to allow notification in accordance with the FAA rules.

I have sent feedback on the FAA website on some of the most glaring errors in the B4UFly application. I expect I am not the only one, will the errors get fixed? I have no expectations there.

AirMap has another great feature, it is not restricted to US airspace, but handles other countries as well. As I am planning to fly along the British Columbia coastline this month I have had to familiarize myself with Canadian drone rules and insure I can check airspace. AirMap fulfills that need.

My recommendation? Load and keep both on your mobile device to check if a question arises. In general AirMap is far more complete, reliable, and far more usable.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on the island of Hawaiʻi.

3 thoughts on “B4UFly and AirMap”

  1. Did u get some floats for da drone? Just in case u have a water landing?
    I hope u are havin fun

  2. Hi Andrew-
    One thing I’ve wondered about the drone I’ve not seen you mention is performance at altitude. Do you notice any difference between use at sea level or up at elevation on Mauna Kea?

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