Here in the United States, we have the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) governing and enforcing everything that has to do with flying and the use of the NAS (National Air Space). This is the agency that sets the rules on who can fly where, throughout the entire country.
If we want to fly our drones in restricted air space, we have to get authorization in advance, and the system the FAA has set up to give us permission is LAANC (Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability).
However, DJI has decided that, because there are several types of limited air space zones, they needed to place further restrictions on owners of DJI drones and have loaded into their firmware a system called Geofencing.
So, what is Geofencing and how can we unlock those restrictions so we can fly in restricted airspaces?
DJI has developed a program within the drone’s firmware that, by using GPS technology, locates the position of your drone and compares that to every listed restricted area the FAA has established.
All DJI drone models, including the Mavic Air 2 and the Mini 2, have geofencing built into them.
When you fly to the edge of one of these areas, a virtual fence will stop your drone from crossing into that air space. But, with permission and proof of authorization that fence can be opened for you to fly through.
In order to discover where these Geo zones are you will need to be able to access a Geo zone map. To unlock a zone for your drone, you will need to get into the DJI Flysafe website.
So the first thing we need to complete, if you have not done so already, is to register yourself on the DJI website.
If you own a DJI drone or are thinking of owning one someday, you should register with DJI so that you can get access to products, software, technology, and assistance. Go to the official DJI website (link).
Now that you are on the website you will see all sorts of fun stuff. All the newest DJI drones and accessories.
Software updates and downloadable documents, tutorial videos and so much great stuff is there to explore, but let’s not go down the rabbit hole and forget what our goal is.
Different platforms will all have a slightly different appearance. iPad apps, smartphone screens, tablet pages, and PC pages will not be identical but close enough to follow these directions.
- Find the Login tab and click.
- You will see the options to Create Your DJI Account.
- Now, complete the online form and you are done with registration.
Now that you are registered we can get down to business.
DJI’s Geo System zones
On the DJI Flysafe page (link), you will have access to a couple of videos about safe operations of your drone and DJI’s own video on how to unlock Geofencing.
Click the Geo Zone Map button and you will be able to see the map of where you are and all the different restricted zones that have been set.
The zones are:
- Restricted Zones – On the map, these areas are shown in a reddish color and represent air space that you cannot fly in.
- Altitude Zones – are gray and indicate that the height of your flight may be regulated.
- Authorization Zones – are air space areas that you need permission from the FAA to fly in. They are blue-colored and to get authorization you must apply through LAANC. We will cover that more later.
- Warning Zones – are shaded yellow and although you do not need LAANC authorization, the DJI app will give you an on-screen warning.
- Enhanced Warning Zones – again, no LAANC authorization is needed but you will need to unlock the Geofencing DJI has programmed. These areas are shaded amber.
There may be some other zones indicated, but no action is necessary on your part.
If you are planning a flight in an Authorization Zone you will need to go to a LAANC site. The FAA has contracted with several websites and you can choose any one you may like. They are all different but the process is the same to get authorized.
Log in to whichever app you have chosen to connect with LAANC. (Try LAANC on AirMap). A map will be displayed so you have to navigate to the area you wish to fly in. This map will show you if you are in controlled air space and if you need LAANC authorization from the FAA.
If you are inside the controlled area, use the tools to draw out the area you wish to fly in, fill in the form with the information they need like your requested AGL, the dates and times you wish to fly, and the extra precautions you will take to remain safe.
In most cases, LAANC will respond within a couple of minutes with an email with denial or authorization. Keep that email because you will need the authorization numbers to unlock the Geofencing and you might be asked during your flight for proof of authorization.
Unlocking DJI Geofencing
I understand that DJI is concerned about flying safely and maybe they are being proactive against lawsuits but I think that the Geofencing is a little bit “big brotherish”, if that is a word.
I suppose that if one of their drones was involved in an incident that cost millions of dollars, then they might be held responsible for some of the damages, so to mitigate that possibility, they have placed Geofencing into the programming.
If you want to fly in a limited air space area, you must physically apply to unlock the program and check the boxes that relieve DJI of responsibility.
The process is very much like applying for LAANC authorization, but DJI includes Warning Zones and Advanced Warning Zones in their Geofencing system, so let’s get them unlocked.
- On your computer, sign in to your DJI account. You should already have opened an account if you have a DJI drone, but if you haven’t, the process is very simple.
- Go to DJI.com and log in or register.
- At the register phase, enter the email address you want to be associated with the account and choose a password.
- Go to DJI.com/flysafe and sign in, again.
- Scroll down the page and click Unlock A Zone.
- If this is your first time unlocking a zone or you are just registering, you will get the page that asks you to complete the Authentication Application.
- Click this and you will be taken to the User Center page to complete the background certification, device management, and pilot management pages.
- In background certification, you will be asked to certify in one of three categories so read the description carefully:
- I advise that, if possible, apply for the Organization Account. This gives you broader access and faster response times than the Personal Account. Government Account requires a lot more documentation but if you meet the criteria, do that one.
- Device Management and Pilot Management are self-explanatory so complete those areas next.
- Now you can go back to the DJI.com/flysafe page and scroll down to Unlock A Zone and click it.
- You will be taken to the Unlock page where all your previous unlock requests are listed.
- Just click on the New Unlock Request and you will be taken to the long disclaimer that you need to “confirm” that you accept the responsibility. It is a good idea to read the disclaimer at least the first time so that you know DJI is handing all the responsibility of the flight over to you, the pilot.
- The next page asks if you want to do a Custom Unlocking or a Zone Unlocking. The Custom Unlocking will require you to draw a specific area you plan to fly within. The Zone Unlocking lets you select the entire Warning Zone to fly in. Usually, Zone Unlocking is easier, but I will cover the instructions for both types.
- Click to Confirm your selection.
- The next page asks for your drone information and pilot information and is the same for Custom or Zone unlocking, in fact, if you have filled in the device and pilot management information correctly, the boxes will give you your devices to select from. Then comes the map.
- In the search bar, enter the address or location that you want to unlock. If you don’t have the listing of the location, you can manipulate the map and find the area you want.
- In the Custom Unlock map, you can draw a circle around the area you want to unlock, then enter the altitude you want to fly to and the reason you want to unlock the area along with the time and date of your planned flight.
- Then click Submit.
- In the Zone Unlocking, you still need to fill in the blanks for equipment and pilot but the map page will be a little different.
- Place your cursor over the zone you want to fly in and click it. Fill in the blanks for date and time, and the reason for the unlock, then submit.
- Once all the blanks are filled in and proof of authorization uploaded (if necessary) click the Submit button and you will get an unlock or denial within seconds.
- As soon as your unlock application is approved, you will receive an email that tells you the application was approved and give you the approval number.
- The email also gives you a link to unlock the drone.
- Click on that link and the page will give you a list of all the types of controllers that DJI uses.
- Click your controller model and the email will give you video instructions that apply to your specific model drone and controller.
Flying in the unlocked zone
Make sure that you start and finish your flight within the zone or custom area you have requested.
I have personally experienced trying to start outside an unlocked zone and have either not been able to start my motors, or flown right up to the zone and got stopped by the Geofence, or have been inside the zone and not been able to fly out.
Follow these instructions and you should have no problems in getting into warning zones and other areas that DJI Geofences. Have fun and fly safe.