DJI is currently undergoing Beta testing on a new Geofencing System for it’s drones. This beta firmware is currently open to the public to test on their Phantom 3 Professional or Inspire 1 for a short period only, after which DJI will release the final version for public use.
Currently if you own a DJI quadcopter or drone such as the Phantom range, geofencing is built in as standard and it will restrict any flights near airports and sensitive areas.
What is Geofencing?
Geofencing is a software feature that uses GPS to define geographical boundaries, acting as a virtual barrier. DJI have used this technology for a while now, serving as an effective control measure to stop users flying quadcopters in no-fly zones or warning them that they are approaching one.
What’s New With This System?
DJI’s previous geofencing system only applied to major airports where aviation safety was a concern. But now with this new system, DJI is introducing Geospatial Environment Online (GEO) which provides drone users with up-to-date information on where flights may be restricted or not possible due to regulation, safety or security concerns.
GEO doesn’t only apply to airports and airfields, there are some areas that would not pose an aviation concern but are considered a sensitive area for example prisons, power plants and military bases.
Lastly, GEO also features temporary airspace restrictions in areas where an aviation concern is only present for a short period of time. For example, sporting events, air displays, forest fires and VIP travel.
DJI have sorted the GEO zones into 3 categories.
- Warning Zones – Simply a warning but allows you to continue flying and requires no action.
2. Authorization Zones – Requires the drone operator to unlock the area before take off.
3. Restricted Zones – These areas cannot be unlocked.
Self Authorised Unlocking
GEO will allow drone operators to unlock restricted flight areas for 24 hours. To unlock an area you must have a DJI account verified with either a credit card, debit card or phone number. When on site and in an authorisation zone, you will get a notification on your phone/tablet asking you if you would like to unlock the area. Some zones will not be un-lockable (restricted zones) because flying a drone could pose too much of a threat to other airspace users or national security.
The below image shows the prompt asking to unlock the area.
Unlock In Advance
If you are planning to fly within an authorisation zone but don’t think you will have internet access on site, or if you’d like to save time setting up on site, you can unlock the area in advance online using the DJI Flight Planner, a built in feature on the GEO site. If you use this method of unlocking an area, it will remain unlocked for 3 days.
To unlock an area in advance, all that is required (as well as a verified DJI account) are the dates you plan to fly within in the area and your aircraft serial number.
The below map shows the restricted and authorization zones in the South East, England.
Quick Word Of Advice
Despite this new and improved feature, I would still recommend others to cross reference their planned flight location with GEO and also check for any NOTAMs (Notice To Airmen). These are temporary airspace warnings and restrictions and can be viewed on programs such as SkyDemon.
Final Thoughts On The New Geofencing System
I totally understand that this is still in beta testing phase but the concept of self authorising worries me a bit. I can see it becoming a very controversial topic. Although DJI are making sure that you are using a verified account which creates a form of accountability, if someone wanted to cause harm, it seems all to easy to set up a fake account with a fake phone number, authorise a flight in a hazardous airspace and do some damage. But hey, that’s just the pessimist in me.
This is in early stages, hence why this is only available for beta testing.
I think it’s a great way to inform people of what kind of airspace they are flying in and to inform them of any hazards which may not be obvious on the ground. And although the current way of verifying is a fairly weak way of keeping someone accountable, it’s better than nothing and it is a step in the right direction.
Use common sense, fly safe and have fun!