Most of us fly drones for the sense of freedom it gives us. But if you’ve been a pilot long enough, then you know there are several restrictions on drone flying.
There are altitude restrictions, maximum distance, etc… but those are for another article. This one is about geofencing, no-fly zones that DJI have implemented in their drones’ software to better allow pilots to fly safely.
The system is called DJI Flysafe and uses GPS to create virtual no-fly zones around sensitive areas. In some cases you can push through the warning on your phone screen, in other cases the drone will physically be unable to fly over the designated no-fly area, which needless to say is incredibly frustrating (especially if you’re flying commercially).
Unlocking geofenced areas is simple and can be done through a quick and hassle free online process. Depending on which no-fly zone you want to access, this can either be done through DJI GO/Fly mobile apps, or directly through the DJI Flysafe website.
To answer that we’ll have to go back to 2013, when DJI first introduced the concept of no-fly zones and then three years later announced the GEO system.
The reason for why DJI introduced this geolocking feature is likely because of legal liability. After all, if they explicitly stop you from flying over an illegal zone and you intentionally find a way to circumvent that restriction, you’ll have yourself to blame while DJI won’t be held liable.
DJI’s Geofencing uses GPS signals to keep your drone out of restricted flying zones like airports, prisons, and other places where security is a concern, this can be optional or required.
DJI drones can’t take off or be flown without permission in certain regions, which are referred to as “geofenced”.
In some cases you’ll need the clearance of the local authorities in charge of drone activities to fly in a no-fly zone. DJI has gone the extra mile though and simplified that process into two easy ways which we’ll go over in a minute.
Just now that the GEO system exists for your safety and protection. It provides more information than just where not to fly (which we’ll also go over in this article).
If you’re unsure whether you’re flying in a clear area or one that’s geofenced, no need to spin your wheels about it. The process of finding that out is as simple as heading over to DJI’s official Flysafe map to see whether the area in which you want to fly is located in a geofenced “zone” that will require unlocking.
Once on the website, simply enter the address of the area where you’re planning to fly. Make sure to check off the “Warning Zones” and “Enhanced Warning Zones” boxes to make sure all of the geofencing information will be included in your search.
The colors that you can see on the Flysafe map may be confusing if you’re not too familiar with them. They’re really not complicated though, once you understand what each color means, you’ll find it easier to navigate the GEO map.
Red zones indicate restricted areas, which you physically can’t fly over unless you did a Custom Unlock. I’ll walk you through how to do that in a second.
Note: if you already have permission, email DJI at firstname.lastname@example.org and let them know.
This color indicates areas with altitude restrictions, usually near airports or air force bases. Due to safety reasons, this restriction cannot be turned off.
Usually, drones will have a 162 ft (60-meter) height limitation and have to be 2.1 mi (3.4 km) in a straight line away from the runway. A warning will appear in the DJI app when you enter an altitude zone, and your flight height will be forcefully limited.
These are less sensitive areas called authorization zones. The blue color indicates areas where flying is risky but up to your discretion if you choose to fly or not. You can usually fly after completing self unlock (which I’ll walk you through).
This color indicates warning zones. Areas where flying can be dangerous but aren’t limited. Meaning you won’t need to do a self or custom. When taking off in these areas, you’ll get a warning notification on your DJI fly/go app.
These notifications can be turned off if you’re a daredevil though.
Same as yellow zones, just slightly more sensitive areas. It can also be turned off if you want, and you can fly in them without restrictions or needing authorization. Usually enhanced warning zones are close to airports (or other critical infrastructure facilities).
Other zones that do not fall under any color but are strictly forbidden for drone pilots can include facilities like prisons, military camps, government buildings and similar locations.
I don’t need to stress the importance of not flying over these facilities, but just to be safe, know that you’ll probably face jail time if you end up doing so (in the U.S).
Below is an explanation of some patterns you may come across when it comes to airports:
We’ll now be discussing how exactly to unlock some areas (those that you can unlock) and the types of unlocking you’ll have to do.
DJI geo unlocking is a process that allows you to bypass DJI’s geofencing from certain types of restricted zones. This can be useful if you want to fly in an area that is normally off-limits, or if you want to use a drone with features that are normally restricted.
Each geo zone as we’ve discussed above has unique requirements to it. Some can’t be unlocked no matter what, others can either be unlocked through self unlocking (associated with blue zones), or through custom unlocking (associated with red/orange zones).
Self Unlock zones can be unlocked fairly easily by clicking through a series of buttons on your DJI FLY or GO app, while Custom Unlock zones require proof of authorization (via LAANC or other documentation, such as a COA), and are done via the DJI Flysafe website.
This type of unlocking works for areas that can be self-unlocked, such as Authorization Zones. These areas only require the user to have a DJI account to have their identity verified the verification is usually done through SMS).
Self Unlock can be done either before you fly or while you’re at the location where you plan to fly.
The process is a fairly simple one.
And you’re done. After securing your self unlock with the steps listed above, you’ll need to do the following:
Go to Camera View, then select General Settings and select Unlocking List in the DJI GO app to confirm your flight license has been downloaded.
See this page on the DJI website for more information: https://www.dji.com/flysafe/self-unlock.
This one is even easier and is the way that I'd recommend, it’s far less hassle than the previous one. Just make sure you have an internet connection.
A custom unlock requires proof of authorization for flying over restricted areas (red zones) and can only be done through DJI’s website. It’s also not always guaranteed that you’ll get the authorization.
Make sure to get your Custom Unlock before you go out into the location because you won’t get a Custom Unlock right away.
I’ll go over the steps you need to take but before we start you need to make sure you’ve already received an authorization from the local authorities to fly in the designated area. They’re the ones who’ll allow you to fly after all. Requesting a custom unlock is only done to show DJI you’re allowed to fly.
I’ve found this article online which goes in detail about the steps you need to take.
Once done, you’ll just have to wait now . DJI will review your Custom Unlock request and reply via email, usually within one hour of submission. If your request is approved you will receive an email confirmation letting you know.
From there you can download the unlocking license and upload it through the app (I’ll show you how in a minute).
Once your request is approved, you’ll receive an unlocking license that you’ll have to manually upload to your drone through your flight app. To do it in the DJI Go app, simply follow these steps:
Note that you can always check your unlocking history by going to the “My Unlock NFZ Applications” within the Go app.
I’ve found this really good video which explains the process:
The process is slightly different than it is in the DJI Go app, but overall follows the same concept.
Once done, it’s time to unlock your drone in DJI Fly:
And that’s basically it for Geolocking. I think I’ve explained the process with as much detail as possible without making it confusing.
We’ve talked in depth about restricted areas and warning zones, but who actually determines which areas are no-fly zones (and punishes transgressions on them). That will be the FAA.
The FAA regulates drone use in the USA and only they have the authority to regulate drone use and enforce the laws regarding it. In fact, they’re the ones who created the drone laws in the first place.
So what happens if you fly your drone in restricted areas? You can expect a fine for sure, and possibly a temporary suspension of your drone. Should you fly in a restricted area and end up interfering with something important, expect more serious repercussions. In some cases, even jail time.
I’ve already talked about drone laws in the U.S in excruciating detail, if you want to read up more on that, head over here.
If you understand exactly what you need to do to fly in restricted and sensitive areas now, then this article has done its job. There are ways to actually lift the restriction off the drone without going through DJI… But that’s illegale. So yeah, don’t do that.
Here is a video from DJI themselves talking about geofencing, which I thought best to leave to the end. It’s a good conclusion to our article.