Drone Assist app tells UK pilots where it's safe to fly

An easy way (hopefully) to avoid restricted airspace.


One of the trickier aspects of drone ownership is knowing where it's okay to fly. Some places are obvious -- you should avoid airports, for instance -- while others can be a little more ambiguous. Your local park might seem like a harmless place to fly, but up above there could be restricted airspace. Drone Assist, a new app from the National Air Traffic Services (NATS), wants to help with a map that indicates if you're close to airspace used by commercial air traffic. It will also highlight power lines and buildings that could pose privacy concerns, such as schools and sports stadiums.

NATS is a leading provider of air traffic control services in the UK. The company manages "all upper airspace" in Britain, which covers 2.4 million flights and 250 million passengers each year. To build the app it's teamed up with Altitude Angel, a company set on building the "Internet of Flying Things." In regular speak, that means creating a system that allows anyone, developers and consumers, to easily access airspace and regulatory data. The hope is that an app like Drone Assist, which launches on Android and iOS tomorrow, can stop future sightings and near-misses at airports.

"With the number of drone incidents on the rise, it's clear that many people are unaware of the rules of their legal obligations as pilots," Phil Binks, drone lead for NATS said. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which sets and upholds the rules around UK drone ownership, recently revised its "dronecode" for new pilots. The rules are now a handy mnemonic, spelling "DRONE" over five quick points: (D)on't fly near airports, (r)emember to stay below 400 feet, (o)bserve your drone at all times, (n)ever fly near aircraft, and (e)njoy responsibly. British law is a little more complicated than that, however, so for a full rundown be sure to read our guide.