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FAA says 400K drones registered as its B4UFLY app lands on Android

Hobbyist drone operators are being encouraged by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to check out its B4UFLY app, which, as its name cleverly suggests, offers owners important safety information prior to each flight.

The free app officially launched for Android users on Monday following several months in beta, though it’s been available on iOS since January.

Using color- and shape-coded status indicators, B4UFLY informs model-aircraft owners of any flight restrictions at their current location, while notifications include messages such as, “Proceed with Caution,” “Warning – Action Required,” or “Flight Prohibited.”

The app also comes with a planner mode that lets you choose a different date and location for a forthcoming flight so you can see if there’ll be any restrictions in place at that time.

As part of efforts to ensure safety in the skies in the wake of growing use of increasingly affordable quadcopters, companies like drone giant DJI are working to add dynamic mapping technology to some of their kits. The company already incorporates geofencing technology with its Phantom machines to prevent flights around restricted locations such as airports, while recent updates allow for flight information to be rapidly refreshed according to an unfolding situation or special event in any given location.

The launch of B4UFLY for Android came on the same day that FAA administrator Michael Huerta reported “remarkable” figures for sign-ups to its drone registry that launched three months ago.

Speaking at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, Huerta said nearly 400,000 drone owners have so far registered their flying machines, more than double that of two months ago.

“That’s really quite remarkable, and we are very encouraged by these numbers,” Huerta said. “[Registration] is a way of letting operators know that as soon as they start flying outdoors, they are in effect pilots, so one way of looking at the registration numbers is that our shared safety message has reached hundreds of thousands of operators.”

However, with reports of drone sales exceeding a million units over the holiday season and the FAA having set February 19 as the deadline for registration, it seems plenty of owners are in no apparent rush to submit their details, or haven’t even heard about the scheme.

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The database, which is for every owner of an unmanned aerial vehicle weighing more than 0.55 pounds (250 grams) and less than 55 pounds (approx. 25 kilograms), was launched by the government in response to an uptick in reports of reckless drone flights close to airports and over large crowds.

Besides “building a culture of accountability and responsibility” among drone users new to aviation, the FAA hopes the database will help the authorities quickly ID drone owners in situations where it’s not immediately obvious who’s responsible for the machine.