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What Happens if You Fly a Drone in Restricted Airspace? (Important)

One of the first rules to know about safe and legal drone flight is that you’re not allowed to fly in restricted airspace. But for boundary pushers out there, or perhaps the merely curious, you may be wondering what happens if you don’t follow this rule. So, what happens if you fly a drone in restricted airspace?

If you own a DJI drone or another drone that comes with similar features, your drone will automatically decelerate and hover in place if it is about to enter restricted airspace. And if you are on the ground in a restricted area and you attempt to take off, your drone won’t be able to do so.

The great thing about many of the drones that we have in today’s market is that they make things simpler for you in the sense that when it comes to flying in restricted airspace, it’s practically impossible. Many drones are built with the function that prevents them from doing so. This is a neat feature, but you should also know that you shouldn’t always rely on your drone to make you keep to the rules.

What is restricted airspace?

Drone flying is one of the fastest-growing hobbies in the world as there are nearly 900,000 registered drones in the US alone. However, as fun as it might be to fly your own drone and to have seemingly no limits as to where you can fly them, you need to know that you do have some limits in relation to where you can fly your drone. That means that there are certain restrictions when it comes to the places where you are not permitted to fly your drone.

The FAA is the governing body when it comes to the rules and regulations regarding drones and drone pilots. The FAA is quite specific in the rules and regulations surrounding drone flight. While some of the rules state that you won’t be able to fly your drone at certain altitudes (above 400 ft) or in certain conditions (beyond your visual line of sight), it is also important to note that there are certain places that are prohibited from drone flight.

The places where you are prohibited from flying your drone are called restricted airspace. From the name alone, it is clear that you are restricted from flying your drones in such airspace for reasons of safety and security of the people and property in such areas. But what is restricted airspace?

The FAA specifically states that you are not allowed to fly your drone in the following airspace:

  • Stadiums and Sporting Events
  • Near Airports (within 5 miles)
  • Security Sensitive Airspace Restrictions
  • Restricted or Special Use Airspace
  • Washington, DC

The reasons why you are restricted from flying your drones in such airspace can vary, but they are all related to the safety and security of the people and properties involved there. 

For example, you can’t fly your drone near an airport because airplanes require a certain vertical clearance when taking off and landing. If your drone ends up getting caught in the engine or propellers of airplanes and helicopters, disaster will follow.

Of course, in the case of Washington, DC, the reason is pretty obvious. Because Washington, DC is the nation’s seat of power, there are serious security risks involved when you fly your drone there. 

On top of that, you are also prohibited from flying drones in such instances:

  • Wildfires
  • Hurricanes
  • Emergencies
  • Rescue operations

The reason you are not allowed to fly your drone in such instances is that your drone might disrupt the efforts of emergency responders. Those who are responding to emergency situations can find drones flying within the vicinity interfering with their own equipment or communications, and that will only delay their work.

All that said, the restrictions regarding drone flight in such areas are hard and fast as it applies to all drones and their pilots except for those who are able to secure a waiver from the FAA for specific purposes. However, in the absence of a waiver, you won’t be able to fly your drone in such restricted airspace.

How do I know if the airspace is restricted?

So some airspaces are restricted, but how can you know if the airspace where you want to fly is restricted in the first place? After all, there are some places that may not seem restricted but are actually included in the list of restricted airspace for your drone. While the list might be quite specific, not all people are aware that they are flying close to an airport or within a short distance of a high-security area, especially if they are not familiar with the area.

If you don’t have a good way of knowing where you can fly, it can easily be possible for you to end up flying in a place that’s considered restricted airspace. After all, there may be areas in your location that you are unfamiliar with but are actually restricted to drones.

The good news here is that the FAA has made it easier for drone pilots to know where we can fly our drones. This comes in the form of a mobile app called B4UFLY, which gives you all of the information you need as a drone pilot so that the chances of you going against the FAA’s rules and regulations are slim. According to the FAA website, the app includes the following features:

  • A clear “status” indicator that informs the operator whether it is safe to fly or not. (For example, it shows flying in the Special Flight Rules Area around Washington, D.C. is prohibited.)
  • Informative, interactive maps with filtering options.
  • Information about controlled airspace, special use airspace, critical infrastructure, airports, national parks, military training routes, and temporary flight restrictions.
  • The ability to check whether it is safe to fly in different locations by searching for a location or moving the location pin.
  • Links to other FAA drone resources and regulatory information.

So, by using the FAA’s B4UFLY app, you will be able to tell beforehand which areas are restricted and whether or not you are flying in places that are safe for you to fly in. This will allow you to trim your chances of flying in restricted airspace to a number closer to zero.

What happens if you fly a drone in restricted airspace?

While it is certainly useful to know which places are restricted airspace for your drone and to be able to tell which specific areas are restricted, maybe you don’t happen to have the B4UFLY app loaded up. If not, there might still be a chance that you could end up flying in an area that’s restricted airspace. So, if that happens, what will happen if you did try to attempt to fly your drone in or into restricted airspace?

There is currently little to no enforcement of the regulations against flying a drone in the majority of restricted airspaces. Notable exceptions of course are near the nation’s capital and other high-security areas. But if you happen to fly a drone near an airport in a small city, and no one notices you, you may not face any type of repercussions or penalties. 

However, if you are caught, and especially if you are making a nuisance of yourself, you could face fines from the FAA of up to $32,666, per incident. So better to know the rules, and abide by them, rather than pushing your luck. 

If you’re concerned about accidentally breaking the rules, the good news for DJI drone owners, which outnumber those who don’t use DJI drones by a lot, is that the newer DJI drones are built with features that will automatically prevent you from flying in or into restricted airspace.

For example, if you are in restricted airspace and you haven’t yet launched your drone, the drone will not take off because it automatically detects that you are attempting to make it take off in restricted airspace. Basically, the drone will prevent you from being able to fly it in that area.

But if you don’t have a GPS signal and happen to be in restricted airspace and you launch your drone, the drone will still take off. But then, the moment it gets a GPS signal and it realizes that it is flying in restricted airspace, the drone will automatically land itself and will not fly until you leave the zone.

By the same token, if you are not in a place that’s within restricted airspace and you attempt to fly your drone towards a zone that is restricted, your drone will steadily decelerate the closer it gets to the restricted zone. And once the drone has reached the boundary of that place, it will only hover in place and will not enter the area that’s labeled as restricted airspace.

While this is a feature that is common among DJI drones, it is also seen in plenty of other drone brands as well. In fact, it has seemingly become a universal feature for drones to automatically override your control if you try to fly them in or into restricted airspace.

These restricted areas seemingly have a fence that keeps drones out, so the feature is often called the invisible fence, or geofencing feature. The drones will act like there is a fence that blocks them from trying to enter airspace that’s considered restricted. It’s actually quite a neat feature that serves as a deterrent for those who don’t care or are ignorant as to whether or not they are in restricted airspace.

So, in a sense, the feature itself will police the drone pilot in case that person really does intend to fly in or into restricted airspace for one reason or another. As such, those who probably have plans of doing something that’s illegal or a threat to the safety and security of people involved won’t be able to fly their drones in restricted airspace due to this neat feature that DJI drones and other drone brands have.

If you don’t have a drone that will automatically prevent you from flying in restricted airspaces, be sure to check your B4UFLY app before taking off, or else know your area really well, and avoid any potentially restricted areas.