Drone operators say FAA safety app needs tweaking

FAA drone app needs tweaking
B4UFly Smartphone App (Image: Hawaii News Now)
B4UFly Smartphone App (Image: Hawaii News Now)
Drone in the air (Image: Hawaii News Now)
Drone in the air (Image: Hawaii News Now)
Controlling the drone (Image: Hawaii News Now)
Controlling the drone (Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Federal Aviation Administration's B4UFly smartphone app is supposed to instantly show drone operators if there are restrictions on the air space they want to occupy.

A map in the app, though, displays icons for airports but not all the helipads and heliports on Oahu. Drone operators say that's problematic.

"As a hobbyist it's my job to make sure that I know all the regulations, know where I'm flying," said Marco Leon of Drones Plus.

Hawaii Drone Academy's Larry Osborn said the helipads and heliports should be listed.

Seven Oahu helipads are currently shown on the app. Osborn knows there are many more.

"We have quite a number in Hawaii, some two dozen, and I think about 15 are right here on Oahu," he said.

Knowing where the helipads are located is important for safety reasons. FAA rules say that drones have to maintain at least a two-mile distance from helicopter takeoff and landing sites.

"It would be beneficial if they add all the other ones, the ones we don't know of," Leon said. "Even a simple Google search doesn't give you all of them."

The app lists heliport and helipad sites at the Queen's Medical Center, Kuakini Medical Center, Moanalua Medical Center, the K3 Helipad at Ford Island, HECO's Waiau location, the Kahuku Fire and Police station, and Kahuku Medical Center.

It doesn't show the heliports at Turtle Bay, Tripler, Kualoa Ranch, and the Honolulu Police Department's main headquarters.

Leon is one of 5,000 drone pilots beta testing the app for the FAA.

"It's not going to be perfect right off the bat," he said. "But with all these suggestions that we're pushing, working closely with the FAA, it'll be a lot better."

FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said he would "definitely encourage anybody who believes that a heliport is not listed on our app to contact the FAA and inform them of that possible omission."

Drone operators also want the app to be more detailed. Drone pilots are supposed to notify nearby heliports of their intent to fly their UAV so Osborn wants the FAA to list heliports' contact information.

"Perhaps there could be one phone number that you can call and find out if there's activity that day at that heliport or not," he said.

"It goes hand in hand," Leon said. "You don't want to be obstructing the pilot of that helicopter."

The B4UFly app is available for Android and iPhone.

Copyright 2016 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.