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Can You Fly a Drone in an Authorization Zone?

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If you own a DJI drone, then you’re probably all too aware that the major drone manufacturer delineates GEO Zones near airports to promote public safety.

You’re flying near what is termed an Authorization Zone, and you’d like to go through. Can you?

Authorization Zones do not allow drone pilots to fly except those with an account verified through DJI. You can then self-unlock to bypass all geofencing rules. You can also get the required permission to fly through a custom unlock.

There’s a lot we have to unpack, and we’re going to do it all ahead.

If you’re new to DJI drones and no-fly versus drone-authorized airspace, then this is one article you’re not going to want to miss!

What is an Authorization Zone? #

Okay, so let’s take it from the top and explain what an Authorization Zone is.

An Authorization Zone is one of several GEO Zones as established by DJI that come into play when a pilot is flying their UAV near an airport.

These GEO Zones include:

  • Altitude Zones,
  • Restricted Zones
  • Enhanced Warning Zones
  • Authorization Zones

All zones are laid out differently depending on whether an airport is low-risk, medium-risk, or high-risk.

An Authorization Zone includes dual semicircles on both ends of the runway. Each semicircle is approximately four kilometers or 2.49 miles, so they go on for a while. The zones are shaped like ovals and overlap in the center.

Are you allowed to fly a drone in an Authorization Zone? #

Okay, so now that you know what an Authorization Zone is, are you allowed to fly there?

Per DJI’s website, “In an Authorization Zone, all flight is restricted by default.”

So how does that make an Authorization Zone different than a Restricted Zone? Both outlaw drone traffic, right?

Yes, but with one critical difference. In a Restricted Zone, drones are not allowed whatsoever, whereas, in an Authorization Zone, there are caveats.

If you have a DJI account that the brand verified, then you can always self-unlock your drone.

When you do this, you’re unlocking your access to fly in one or more Authorization Zones. This is all done through the DJI GO app, and the unlock lasts for at least 24 hours. 

How to unlock your DJI drone #

If you’re interested in unlocking your DJI drone to bypass Authorization Zone restrictions, you have two options. You can either do the traditional self-unlock or custom unlock your UAV.

Here are the steps for both options.

Self-unlocking your drone #

  1. Log into your approved DJI account via the Self Unlock webpage here.
  2. You’ll see a dropdown menu. Go through the menu and choose your drone’s make and model.
  3. Next, you’ll see a Geo Map. This is where you can use your self-unlocking capabilities to bypass Authorization Zones. Search for the GEO Zone nearest you by typing in the address in the search bar.
  4. Once you’ve found your Geo Map zone, you have the option to add a blue pin in that zone. The blue pin represents a GEO Zone you’ve self-unlocked.
  5. Input the flight control serial number. If you don’t know your serial number, then follow these steps.
    • Log into the DJI GO 4 app.
    • Access the General Settings menu by selecting the three dots in the top right of the app.
    • Go all the way to the bottom and select About. You should see your serial number.
  6. Pick your flight date and then choose Submit.
  7. Read through the terms of agreement and click on Agree when you’re ready.
  8. Verify your identity. You can either input your credit card number that’s on file through DJI or your phone number. DJI will text you an authentication number if you select phone as your verification option.
  9. If DJI verifies your account, then you will see a Verification Complete pop-up.
  10. Select the Proceed option.
  11. Double-check that the unlocking worked by toggling to Camera View, General Settings, and Unlocking List, all of which you can do in the DJI GO or DJI GO 4 app.

Custom unlocking your drone #

The other option–and the more time-consuming of the two–is custom unlocking.

With a custom unlock, you need prior authorization to fly in the zone you want to custom unlock as DJI requires that authorization so you can unlock your drone.

Once you have the authorization, you can follow these steps.

  1. Log into your DJI Account through the custom unlock page here.
  2. Go into Unlocking Requests and complete the Basic Information form. You’ll need to prove your verified DJI account and include your name, authorization documentation, the details of your operation, and your flight controller serial number.
  3. Select Next Step when you’re finished.
  4. You will now be brought to the Unlocking Area. Use the dropdown menu to choose your drone model.
  5. Next, you’ll see the Geo Map. Input the address of where you want to fly.
  6. Mark the area on the map where you’ll custom unlock with a red pin.
  7. On the Geo Map’s right side, you can input further information, so do that now. This info includes the unlocking zone name, the flight altitude, and the flight radius.
  8. Then choose Confirm.
  9. You’ll see a review of DJI’s terms and conditions next. Choose Agree.
  10. Your custom unlock request is not granted instantly. DJI has to review it, and this can take upwards of an hour. Check your email, as you’ll see a confirmation of the request in your inbox if your request is granted.

What happens if you get caught flying a drone in an Authorization Zone without approval? #

While unlocking your DJI drone–either by doing it yourself or through a custom unlock–does grant you permission to access an Authorization Zone, we want to make it clear that you’re not doing this without DJI’s approval.

If DJI doesn’t want you in a specific Authorization Zone, then you will not be allowed to fly there, end of story.

What if you decide to defy DJI and fly in an Authorization Zone without permission?

Now that you’ve entered prohibited airspace, nothing good is going to happen.

At the very, very least, you could face substantial fines and possible time behind bars as well.

These aren’t light fines, either. You could have to pay up to $100,000, and the prison term could be a year in federal prison.

Keep in mind though that this is the best-case scenario.

The worst-case scenario is that your drone could be shot down or otherwise attacked by military weapons or other aircraft.

You’re not supposed to be in the skies, after all, so your drone has to go down.

Once your drone crash-lands (and is damaged beyond all repair), you’ll probably still be fined and possibly put in jail, so it’s really a lose-lose.

It’s easy enough to unlock your drone through DJI, and even the custom unlock feature has an approval turnaround time of an hour. There’s no reason for you to fly unauthorized in an Authorization Zone.

If you want to play it extra safe, you can always stay within Enhanced Warning Zones.

These circular zones are within the Authorization Zone’s perimeter but are two kilometers or 1.24 miles broader.

The DJI GO app will send you a warning when you enter an Enhanced Warning Zone, but you have the option to keep flying if you wish.

Conclusion #

An Authorization Zone prohibits drone flight without the proper authorization. You can always unlock your DJI drone to get through an Authorization Zone, but even this requires prior DJI approval.

Please remember that if for any reason, you do not get this approval, then you should not fly in an Authorization Zone, as your access is restricted at that point.

Trying to fly your drone anyway could result in disastrous consequences such as your drone being shot down and fines of up to $100,000, not to mention jailtime too!


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