b4ufly, airman

Ask Drone Girl: B4UFly, what do the grey circles mean, and can I fly my drone there?

Next up in our “Ask Drone Girl” series is about using apps to figure out where you can legally fly drones. If you have a question for Drone Girl, contact her here.

I am about to receive my first real drone, the Phantom 3 Advanced.
My question is on the app it shows airports in an orange circle so obviously NO FLYING. but if I live in a city close by and it’s got a grey circle what’s that mean ?

Hey there!

It’s great to check where you can legally fly your drone BEFORE you actually purchase it. Many people buy their drone, and THEN realize they live a mile from an airport and can’t fly in their own back yard.

To answer your question, first I’d need to know what app you’re using to figure out the colors you’re referencing. There are TONS of apps out there to check where you can and can’t fly. There’s the FAA’s own B4UFly app, but in my opinion the interface is difficult to use. There are lots of other drone apps out there that do the same/similar job, but better. Check out Airmap, KittyhawkHover, or Skyward, which was recently acquired by Verizon.

Personally, I use Airmap, so I’ll walk you through their app to figure out whether you can fly there.

Here’s where I live (San Francisco):

The app makes it easy to check the boxes of your use case, and then it puts circles where you can and can’t fly. I’m guessing you’re a recreational user, so I simply checked that box, and I get those orange circles.

Community-based guidelines require recreational operators to give notice for flights within 5 statute miles of an airport. Airmap makes it easy; if you click on that circle, you actually get the airport operator’s phone number, and some even allow you to give digital notice of your flight.

Airmap also allows you to opt to show other areas that you cannot fly in for various other reasons. For example, while the FAA themselves say nothing about national parks, the National Park Service has said that launching, landing, or operating drones is prohibited in those areas. Here’s where I can and can’t fly if I select those guidelines too:

The grey circle you’re referencing could be one of those areas.

I’m SO GLAD you said you are buying a DJI drone, because they do the best job of any drone company to help users know where they can and can’t fly. DJI’s own app will provide you with warning zones to help you know if where you’re flying is legal. Notice that if you’re in a red zone, your drone will literally not take off unless you contact DJI directly and have them unlock it, in a system DJI calls “geofencing.”

Here are their warning zones:

  1. Warning Zone. In these Zones, which may not necessarily appear on the DJI GO map, users will be prompted with a warning message that may be relevant to their flight.
    Example Warning Zone: A protected wildlife area.
  2. Enhanced Warning Zone. In these Zones, you will be prompted by GEO at the time of flight to unlock the zone using the same steps as in an Authorization Zone, but you do not require a verified account or an internet connection at the time of your flight.
    Example Enhanced Warning Zone: A farm which is 3 miles away from a busy international airport.
  3. Authorization Zone. In these Zones, which appear yellow in the DJI GO map, users will be prompted with a warning and flight is limited by default. Authorization Zones may be unlocked by authorized users using a DJI verified account.
    Example Authorization Zone: Model aircraft flying club near an airport.
  4. Restricted Zone. In these Zones, which appear red the DJI GO app, users will be prompted with a warning and flight is prevented. If you believe you have authorization to operate in a Restricted Zone, please contact flysafe@dji.com
    Example Restricted Zone: Washington D.C.

Thus, DJI makes it pretty easy to not “accidentally” fly in a restricted area:

As you can see from their map, (type in your own address in their map online to see how the app would appear from where you intend to fly) the drone literally would not take off in that red area (that’s where a Class B airport is) and I would get a warning if I flew in the green area.

Happy flying!

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