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The App To Help Idiots Stop Flying Drones Into Planes

RCFlyMaps shows every airport in the country and their five-mile, no-fly zones.
​Sceengrab: RCFlyMaps 

There are almost 20,000 air​ports in the United States and the Federal Aviation Administration says you can't fly a d​rone within five miles of any of them.

As you can imagine, that makes it a little tricky to figure exactly where you can take your drone out for a spin. And this year, dozens of people who couldn't figure that out have allegedly caused havoc with ​near mid-collisions with airplanes.

When you combine more and more people getting their hands on affordable drones and the strict FAA rules expected next year, it's obvious there are even more problems to come.

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Though there is plenty of controversy over whether t​he FAA's no-fly zones actually have legal authority or not, it's probably good practice to stay away from airports, anyway. And those near misses are something of a tricky issue, with many dr​one hobbyists suggesting that the FAA is inflating the numbers or exaggerating the dangerousness of the incidents (some have later been attri​buted to law enforcement misconduct, for instance).

Attempting to create a solution, developer Dale Jones has created an app that maps out every airport in the United States and their five-mile, no-drone ranges.

Jones, a remote control aircraft hobbyist for more than a decade, said the app became necessary as he watched more and more first-time fliers go out, buy cheap drones, and get into trouble.

Screengrab: RCFlyMaps

"It's dangerous and it's in the news all the time and they're giving the hobby and guys like me who do it correctly a bad name," he told me on the phone this week.

RCFlyMaps, which costs $1.99 and is available for iPhones, uses GPS to show the no-fly zones, as well as locations vetted by the ​Academy of Model Aeronautics as safe places to take off. Users can add their own locations and share their favorite spots with fellow pilots, too.

"It could be a big open field and there's nothing around it, with no interstate that you could run into. There's a whole host of things that make somewhere a good place to fly," Jones said.

Areas that are legal but not ideal—such as places with large chain-linked fences nearby, which interfere with the remote control signals—are also flagged.

Jones says he has sunk about $12,000 of his own money into making the app. Though he'd love to turn a profit, he's doubtful he will even break even. But he says it's a "labor of love" that he hopes might ease the tension between drone enthusiasts and the drone-averse, lest he lose all ability to enjoy his favorite hobby.

"I'm hoping that it gets out there and people want to use it and they're flying a little bit safer," he said.

Jason Koebler contributed additional reporting