As any PPL (Private Pilots Licence) holder knows one of the most important things he or she must do when conducting flights is to avoid restricted or controlled airspace into which the pilot is not allowed due to the privilege limitations of the licence held. In layman’s terms this means a private pilot has to stay outside of designated areas centred upon major and some minor airports. The pilot will have learnt this as part of the PPL syllabus, but nevertheless controlled airspace infringements continue to occur for a variety of reasons; navigation error in flight, poor flight planning, use of out of date charts etc. Drone or sUAV pilots need to observe and adhere to the same regulations and the DJI Phantom 2 No Fly Zone feature that will be good news to both quadcopter flyers and aviation authorities all over the world.
Belonging to a BMFA (British Model Flying Association – www.bmfa.org) affiliated club is a good way of ensuring that you fly your quadcopter within designated flying areas, but what if you want to fly in all sorts of locations? What if your recreational flying develops into something semi professional or a full-time occupation?
Phantom 2 No Fly Zone Feature
Whether you’re an amateur, recreational, or professional quadcopter flyer (or any other type of multirotor drone pilot) you will need to be aware of possible restrictions and risks associated with the airspace around your intended flight zone. sUAV pilots who obtain a BNUC-s or RPQ-s licence will cover this in detail during the groundschool phase of their training. PPL holders will also be aware, but recreational flyers may not be familiar with all the types of airspace and the restrictions associate with each of them. To stay ahead of the game DJI Innovations have released an upgrade to the firmware for the Phantom 2 range of quadcopters (Phantom 2, Phantom Vision, Phantom Vision+) which includes a No Fly Zone feature and the ability to set distance and height limits for your flying area.
DJI quadcopters are in use all over the world so the firmware upgrade includes a global database of the world’s major airports. This update has been developed after consultation with several ICAO member civil aviation authorities. The database is divided into two categories; A and B.
Category A Airports
Category A includes the world’s larger airports. These have been given a safety zones with a 5 km radius. The quadcopter will not be able to take-off if it is within 1.5 miles of the airfield centre point. From 1.5 miles outward a gradually increasing height limit of 35ft (at 1.5 miles) to 400ft (at 5 miles) keeps the drone under the controlled airspace. The Phantom’s app will warn the pilot if the drone is approaching this safety zone.
Category B Airports
Category B airports are the smaller airports and airfields and the safety zone radius of these is 0.6 miles. The Phantom app will warn the pilot if the drone is within 0.6 miles of this safety zone.
The software will also prevent you from setting waypoints within 8 km of either type of safety zone.
However, this feature will only work if the quadcopter has a strong enough GPS fix on its position. If the drone flies into one of these zones without a GPS fix and then picks up a strong enough signal to obtain a fix but only once it’s inside the zone then it will start to land immediately. The pilot will still be able to control the drone in all axes with the exception of climb – it will not be able to gain height once it is in descent. If the infringement occurs beyond 1.5 miles of a Category A airport but within the 5 km radius then it will descend into the area beneath the safety zone where free flight is allowed.
Height and Distance Limits
The firmware update also includes a feature which allows the pilot to set height and distance limits relative to the take-off point. This means that you can create your own fly zone to ensure that you stick to those limits if you are close to an restricted areas. The defaults are 1300ft AGL and 1 mile horizontally from the take-off point and these parameters can be adjusted according to the country, geographic location or corresponding civil aviation laws.
If no GPS signal can be obtained the height limit is set to a default of 394ft AGL.
Other Fly Zone Safety Tips
As multirotor UAV become more popular the onus will be on the pilots who fly them to ensure that they are flown safely and legally, and that they do not cause a nuisance. If you intend to fly at various locations then keep in mind these additional tips for safe and enjoyable drone flying.
- Familiarise yourself with the airspace in and around the intended flight area. Consider keeping an up to date aeronautical chart with you at all times and check this before setting off. In the UK the CAA’s 1:250,000 charts would be most appropriate for drone pilots.
- Consider investing in an Airband Radio and keep a listening watch for aircraft within the vicinity. You can find out what frequency to use in a copy of the annually updated Pooley’s Flight Guide for the UK.
- Consider also that there may be small farm airstrips nearby, hidden from view but close to where you intend to fly. These may be used infrequently but the sudden appearance of a light aircraft or microlight taking off could be an unpleasant surprise. You can find out where all these farm strips are in the UK in one of the annual publications e.g. Lockyear’s Farm Strips. Charts, radios, flight guides etc can be obtained from pilot shops e.g. Flightstore.
- Consider that there may be aircraft that are non-radio equipped operating perfectly legally and flying through your intended fly zone. Although no aircraft should fly below 500ft AGL they may be flying at 501ft and if you fly your drone at or above 500ft then there is a risk of collision. Keep a good lookout at all times, not just on your drone or on the app on your transmitter but on the airspace around you too.
- You will also need some form of insurance. If you’re a recreational drone flyer belonging to a BMFA affiliate club then you may be covered but don’t assume – always check not only that the insurance is there but also what it covers and what it doesn’t cover. As a commercial sUAV pilot you will need Public Liability Insurance to cover those things we’d rather not think about such as multirotors falling out of the sky and injuring people or livestock, or damaging property.
As the operator of a quadcopter you are a pilot even if you fly for fun. Get into the habit of thinking like a pilot and maintaining awareness of the airspace around you and those with whom you share it and you will develop good habits that will prevent mishaps and make it easier for you to make the transition from recreational to commercial sUAS operations.