Everyone loves something with a ‘free’ label slapped all over it. And in the case of SafeSky, it could save your life. A win win in every pilot’s eyes…
19 August 2022
From Free or €29.99 for additional features
SafeSky is an app that uses the cellular network to share your position, and to provide you with a pseudo radar display of traffic around you. This base functionality is free, and the premium version allows you to integrate with other devices such as SkyEcho and PilotAware, in order to display the resulting composite traffic on many navigation and planning apps such as SkyDemon.
The bottom line is you lose nothing and potentially gain awareness of extra traffic (SafeSky aggregates 15 different EC protocols*), all without adding extra hardware. I can see no good reason not to use SafeSky, and with the in-app integration option costing just €29.99 per year, that should be an easy decision too. Too good to be true? Read on…
SafeSky is the product of a group of pilots from Belgium and France (hence some of the characterful translations on the website). The idea was to provide traffic information for people flying at low and medium levels (say, up to 5,000ft), and to include in that group people flying without any form of physical electronic conspicuity such as hang gliders, paragliders and paramotors (an area strengthened by a recent agreement to integrate SkyTraxx).
Pretty much everyone has a mobile phone, so it made sense to use this as the network for the data. Wanting to optimise availability, SafeSky went with a lightweight protocol that only requires the transmission of a few bits of data, and that as a result works in areas with only 2G/Edge signal strength available.
Clearly mobile reception is key to the success of the app, and as you can see from the map, there’s roughly 80% coverage available below 5,000ft in Europe. Cue lots of people saying, “…but if you rely on a phone signal, what if you fly higher, or in a remote area?” To which the answer is, like any other form of EC, you can’t rely on it to show you all of the traffic everywhere, but it will probably show you a lot more of the traffic than you might have got from any single system, particularly as SafeSky integrates many other data types such as OGN and FLARM into its network.
All of this traffic is sent to your phone or tablet and can be seen on the launch screen, or on the pseudo radar screen within the app, and better still all of this is available without paying a penny.
The 182’s cockpit is not short of screens, and I didn’t really want another to look at, so I have been flying with the premium features enabled. That means running SafeSky either on your tablet (if it has a cellular option with SIM card and data) or on your phone. If you choose the latter, make sure it is on the same network as the tablet (in my case both are connected to the SkyEcho Wifi) and the software will take care of the comms.
When the time comes to go flying, rather than selecting SkyEcho from SkyDemon’s drop down menu, ‘Use GDL90 Compatible Device’ is selected. The result is a composite traffic picture, which includes everything picked up by my SkyEcho2, plus anything picked up by SafeSky.
Clearly there will be traffic that is picked up by both systems, and in this case the SkyEcho2 traffic is the target displayed. Incidentally, SafeSky’s feed contains decoded FLARM traffic, so it might be possible to save a little money there, but I would rather pay for direct FLARM through my navigation app.
The app itself contains quite a few other features, for emergencies you are able to trigger a Mayday message that will alert your pre-saved contacts, you can toggle Metars on and off (you get to choose between V, M and I for VFR, Marginal or IFR, Cloudbase, wind strength and visibility).
You are able to invite flying friends to join SafeSky, and will receive alerts when they are airborne, and will have the ability to send them pre-formatted messages. Additionally you can create a ‘squadron’ – this is a group of friends who you may fly with in formation. The app highlights your squadron buddies when flying, and does not give you continuous proximity alerts when you are flying in formation with them. There are more features, and for me that’s both a strength as well as a bit of a weakness…
I love technology, and I definitely love knowing about as much traffic as possible, but I did sometimes find myself a bit confused when trying to take in all of the features and options available with SafeSky. That wasn’t helped by the lack of a comprehensive user manual (I do sometimes read manuals), although there is a very active user forum where you can get help, quite a few tips in-app and a number of videos on the company’s YouTube channel. Less is sometimes more, and my favourite configuration was allowing SafeSky to present SkyDemon with a feed containing position and traffic from the SkyEcho2 and supplemented with additional traffic from SafeSky.
To sum up…There are times when it doesn’t work because there’s no mobile signal, but I was surprised by the places it did work more than the places it didn’t. You could use SafeSky – and only SafeSky – and it would be infinitely better than using nothing at all. In this free mode you can display it just on your phone, or you could run it in split screen mode with your favourite navigation software.
Again, both of these options, while not perfect, are much better than nothing at all.
Personally, I think that shelling out the €29.99 and enjoying the ability to integrate SafeSky with something like SkyEcho2 or PilotAware alongside your favourite navigation app, is an easy decision and money very well spent, but even if you only use the free version, you and others will benefit and perhaps even save your life for no cost whatsoever!
*Those protocols in full…
* Fly master
* Mode S
* OGN tracker
* Pilot Aware
For more, see SafeSky