Nothing ruins your day more than planning a great drone route only to discover that part of the route is in restricted airspace.
The drone map’s big, red imposing area intimidates you, but you still want to fly through anyway.
Can you fly a drone in restricted airspace?
You cannot fly a drone in restricted airspace unless you have LAANC authorization. The point of restricted airspace is to keep drones out. You’re likeliest to see restricted airspace around airports, sports stadiums, government buildings, and other sensitive infrastructure.
If you’re new to flying drones and want to learn more about restricted airspace, you’ve come to the right place.
This guide will explain what restricted airspace is, how you can differentiate it from other types of airspace, and whether you can fly in restricted airspace.
To help, we’ve identified and reviewed the best drone courses for beginners and professionals.
What is restricted airspace?
Let’s take it from the top and define restricted airspace.
Restricted airspace is an area the local aviation authority considers unsuitable for drone pilots. In the United States, the FAA makes those calls, but it’s a different authority all over the world.
The aviation authority that sets up restricted airspace bounds does so for one reason: safety.
We’ll share restricted airspace examples shortly, but these areas could have artillery firing, air combat training, or missile launches occurring.
The FAA says:
“Restricted areas denote the existence of unusual, often invisible, hazards to aircraft such as artillery firing, aerial gunnery, or guided missiles. Penetration of restricted areas without authorization from the using or controlling agency may be extremely hazardous to the aircraft and its occupants.”
Otherwise, manned aircraft may launch and land in the area, which would pose a risk to civilian life if your drone was in the vicinity.
Protecting privacy and proprietary information also guides aviation authorities like the FAA in deeming certain airspace restricted.
An area of restricted airspace may always be active, meaning your drone cannot fly there at any point. Some restricted airspaces have periods of inactivity.
You could fly through this airspace during those periods, but only for as long as the restrictions remain deactivated.
Examples of restricted airspace
Let’s take a look at some types of restricted airspace you might come across so you can get a better idea of where you cannot fly your drone.
- Within five miles of an airport, heliport, or aerodrome
- Near sports stadiums and arenas
- By government buildings
- Near areas deemed sensitive infrastructure, which varies by state and country
Can you fly a drone in restricted airspace?
No-fly zones or restricted airspace are designed by their very nature to keep drones out. However, you can fly through a restricted zone if you have the correct permissions.
You’ll have to contact the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability or LAANC and request clearance.
You can use your favorite drone app such as Kittyhawk or Aloft to reach LAANC.
First, establish your desired flight path, then input information such as the time you plan to fly, your max altitude (keeping in mind you can’t exceed 400 feet), and your flight range.
Once you submit this information, the drone app will send it to LAANC. You’ll then receive an email confirming or denying your flight request.
It doesn’t take more than several minutes for LAANC to get back to you, so you won’t have to wait long.
If LAANC approves your flight request, you can access restricted airspace, but only the flight path coordinates you mapped out and sent to LAANC.
What if you’re turned down?
It does happen, but it usually comes down to mistyping flight coordinates, ascension height, or something of that nature. Reread your request, and if you see any mistakes, send another request.
A word on DJI drones
Currently, DJI is the only drone brand on the market that takes a more active hand in limiting your drone flying radius.
When you enter a warning zone, your drone will display a warning. If you enter restricted airspace, your DJI drone will begin to slow down and hover.
This is all due to DJI’s geofencing capabilities, a built-in feature in every DJI drone. Geofencing is a helpful feature until it’s not. Many pilots talk about geofencing as the thorn in their side.
It’s great for keeping pilots out of restricted airspace, but sometimes, geofencing can be a little too limiting.
Fortunately, you can unlock geofencing and fly your DJI drone more freely. We have a very detailed guide on how to do so here, so make sure you give that a read.
How do I know if an area is restricted airspace?
You’re new to flying drones and don’t want to venture out into restricted airspace accidentally. How do you know where this airspace is?
That’s easy! Use a drone app.
We already mentioned two such apps earlier, Kittyhawk and Aloft, but those are far from the only ones. If you own a DJI drone, you could use the DJI Fly or DJI GO apps.
B4UFLY is the FAA’s drone app, so it’s always packed full of the most up-to-date flight maps and restrictions.
Once you’ve selected a drone app, here are the steps to follow to use the accompanying map.
Step 1 – Create an account
If you haven’t yet registered an account on the drone app, you’ll have to do that next. You should receive a confirmation from the app that your account has been created.
Step 2 – Log into the app
Now you can log into the drone app with the credentials you selected. If you can, save your login information so you don’t have to input it each time you sign in.
Step 3 – Select your location on the map
Now you can use the app, including the drone map. Open the map and find a spot manually, using drop-down menus, or by typing in the name of the location.
The drone map will instantly transport the map marker to your desired location.
Step 4 – Check for airspace restrictions
Now look for restricted zones on the map. Red indicates restricted airspace, while yellow zones are warning zones. You can still fly through these areas, but the same does not apply to red zones.
What happens if I fly a drone in restricted airspace?
However, accidents happen, especially if you’re a new drone pilot who doesn’t have a DJI drone and maybe wasn’t using a drone app before now.
Let’s say you enter restricted airspace without meaning to. After all, if you’re not using a drone app, restricted airspace looks just like any other airspace. It’s impossible to tell the difference.
So what kind of fate befalls you if you travel through restricted airspace with your drone? Let’s go over what could happen.
Your drone could get confiscated
Depending on the nature of your flight and who catches you, it’s possible your drone could get taken away from you.
If you’ve ever had your drone confiscated, you know that while it’s possible to get the UAV back in most instances, it’s a real pain to do so.
Your drone could be shot down
If you’re flying your drone over a military airbase, out of an abundance of caution, the military presence there could shoot down your drone. If that happens, you can trust that your UAV will be kaput.
You’ll have no choice but to purchase a new one.
You could receive a fine
We saved the biggest and most severe punishment for last, and that’s a fine. Since flying in restricted airspace is a federal crime, the FAA will charge you the big bucks for violating its drone laws.
Each time you fly over restricted airspace, you’ll have to pay a fine of $32,666.
Keep in mind that just because these punishments could happen doesn’t mean they will. It all depends on where you’re flying.
If you’re trying to enter Washington, DC or a military airbase, the rules will be more strictly enforced than flying near a sports stadium.
However, just because the rules aren’t always enforced to the fullest extent doesn’t mean you should go out of your way to fly in restricted airspace.
It’s okay if it happens accidentally here and there, but it’s nothing to make a habit of!
Restricted airspace is just that, restricted. It’s marked that way on a drone map to keep pilots out.
Some drone manufacturers like DJI have taken things a step further by automatically grounding a drone that enters restricted airspace.
Our takeaway is this: use a drone map to confirm the presence of restricted areas.
If you’re not sure if an area you’re flying in is restricted, it’s best to err on the side of caution and find another place to use your drone!