Flying a drone anywhere you go may seem like a fun and exciting idea, but before you launch your drone, you have to understand that you can’t just simply fly it wherever and whenever you want. There are in fact rules and restrictions about where you can and cannot fly your drone. There are a good number of places where you can’t fly a drone, but there are many more places where you CAN fly your drone. So, how do you know where you can fly a drone?
In general, the best way to know where you can fly a drone is to understand the FAA rules about restricted airspace. You can also use the FAA’s B4UFLY mobile app to ascertain whether a specific location is restricted. Also, if you have a DJI drone, it will prevent you from flying when you are in a restricted area.
It can be tricky to figure out exactly which places are considered restricted, especially if you are close by to a no-fly zone. Thankfully, there are methods that will allow you to quickly tell whether or not you can fly your drone in a certain location so that you don’t have to worry about breaking the rules.
Where are you NOT allowed to fly your drone?
One of the limits the FAA has imposed on drone flying is to restrict drone pilots from flying in certain places or areas that would involve safety and security risks to themselves or others. So, what exactly are the places where you aren’t allowed to fly your drone?
Here are the types of places the FAA has ruled to be no-fly zones where you won’t be able to fly your drone:
- Stadiums and Sporting Events
- Near Airports
- Security Sensitive Airspace Restrictions
- Restricted or Special Use Airspace
- Washington, DC
The reasons you are not allowed to fly your drones in such places are related to the safety and security of the people involved.
For example, you can’t fly your drone within 5 miles of an airport because airplanes need to cover a certain distance before they can get to an altitude above the normal limit for drones to operate. You can’t fly your drone within a 5-mile radius from an airport because there is a chance that your drone could end up getting caught in the engines of an airplane.
Another example is a stadium for sporting events. While safety and security matters aren’t really quite the issue here, the issue is more in line with the proprietary filming rights inherent in such events, as there are specific industry partners that have paid a lot of money to broadcast these sporting events. So, even though it really isn’t a matter of safety and security, it can still end up becoming an economic issue when you fly your drone near stadiums and sporting events.
Other types of scenarios where you cannot fly your drone are related to who or what else may be around you. You cannot fly:
- Over people
- Over moving vehicles
- In adverse weather conditions
In addition to the abovementioned, here are some instances where flying your drone is temporarily restricted in a specific location:
- Rescue Operations
The reason you should not fly your drone near such events or in such instances is to make sure that the emergency responders are able to do their jobs properly. And there are also response teams that may have to use their own drones, which should be able to fly unimpeded by your drone.
How do you know where you CAN fly your drone?
Looking at the list of situations and places where you are not allowed to fly might lead you to think that almost everywhere is really fair game to fly your drone. And you wouldn’t be far wrong, as there are many, many places where it is legal and safe to fly your drone.
However, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. One is that local cities and towns are also free to make their own restrictions on where you can fly drones, and the FAA requires drone pilots to adhere to these local ordinances as well. So if you happen to be near NYC, you’re not going to find many places where you are allowed to fly a drone.
Another thing to keep in mind is that there may be airports or high-security installations that you aren’t aware of. For example, there are over 5,000 public airports and over 14,700 private airports (source) in the US. That means that you won’t be able to fly your drone within a 5-mile radius of about 20,000 airports in the entire country.
So, what’s the best fail-proof way to know if the area you want to fly your drone in is permitted? Luckily, the FAA has made it really easy to follow the rule. They’re not trying to trip you up, they’re trying to help everyone stay safe.
The best way to know where you can fly is to download the FAA’s B4UFLY app. This is a very useful and intuitive app specifically designed and built for drone pilots anywhere in the US. You can use the app to tell where you can and cannot fly your drone, and make sure to keep away from any restricted airspace.
According to the FAA website (link), 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.
The app, or if you prefer working on a desktop, the website, will allow you to do some preflight planning, which is always a good idea. One of the things you can do is to enter an address where you are planning to fly a drone. It can be the address of your own home in case you want to fly a drone in your backyard or it could be a public park that’s nearby. By simply putting in the address, you will be able to see whether or not you are permitted to fly your drone there if it isn’t covered by a dark circle.
For example, if you enter an address close to Dodger Stadium while a Dodgers game is in progress, the address might end up having a dark circle around it because there is an ongoing sports event near that address.
The app is really very simple to use and understand. You can look at the map of the B4UFLY app and then the legend will clearly show you what the different colors mean. Basically speaking, the app gives everything you need to know regarding where you can fly your drone.
Anytime you are out and getting ready to fly your drone, especially if you’re in an area that you’re not super familiar with, you should open up the B4UFLY app and check whether there are any restrictions in your area.
2. GEO system
If you have a DJI drone, one great way of knowing whether or not you can fly a drone in a certain location is through the GEO system that is built into the drones’ software. Some other companies may also have the same or similar system but this system is popularly tied with DJI.
What the GEO system does is automatically feed map information to your drone through its GPS capabilities so that the drone will already know whether or not it can fly in certain airspace. This system doesn’t require any input from the user, but instead, the drone will intuitively adhere to any known airspace restrictions.
For example, if you attempt to fly into a place that’s considered restricted airspace, your drone will automatically decelerate until it stops and hovers in place at the boundary line of the restricted airspace.
Another good example is when you are inside restricted airspace and are attempting to launch your drone. The drone itself will not take off when it realizes it is in restricted airspace. If it is unable to lock on to a GPS signal, the drone may take off, but it will automatically land when it does get a GPS signal.
In other words, this system is like an invisible fence that prevents your drone from entering a place that’s considered restricted, even though you can’t see that boundary line. Instead, the fence is inside the drone’s own GPS as the system itself will tell the drone that it isn’t allowed to fly into that airspace.
For all but the most secure restricted areas, you can switch off this GEO lock feature on DJI drones. For instance, if you have obtained clearance to operate within the 5-mile boundary of a local airport, you can turn off the GEO lock in order to be able to fly your DJI drone in that space. So it’s not a fail-proof method of keeping drones out of restricted spaces, but it’s a really good alert to make sure drone operators are aware of where they’re flying.
It’s also worth noting that the DJI built-in GEO map restrictions may not cover absolutely every restricted space, such as all local ordinances. They also may not have real-time updates for things such as emergency situations. So you still need to know the FAA rules, and it’s still a good idea to check for updates on the B4UFLY app.