Places Where You Can’t Fly Your Drone

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Just like a good camera, a high-quality drone can be an essential companion to your trips and vacations. What better way is there to enjoy the sights of a newfound place than from the vantage point of a drone? Here’s a downer, though: you can’t just fly your drone anywhere you want.

For a variety of reasons, some countries around the world outright ban the use of drones. Even in the US, there are particular areas where drone flight is considered illegal. Before you pack the drone for the trip you’re planning, check out our list of the places where you can’t fly your drone.

No-Fly Zones in the US

1. National parks

All national parks are under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service (NPS) who in 2014 issued a blanket restriction against the use of any unmanned aircraft over national parks, including drones and model airplanes. More than just national parks, this restriction covers everything under the authority of the NPS including a large number of hiking trails, rivers, biking trails, historic sites, battlefields, and monuments.

The blanket restriction was put in place because the NPS believes that these unmanned aircraft pose a significant threat to safety of visitors, staff, and wildlife. They are also considered a nuisance, since their constant buzzing noise can disturb visitors and the animals who live in these areas.

However, there’s a way for you to work around this restriction. The NPS can only prohibit taking off or landing your drone inside a national park. The airspace, on the other hand, is still within the jurisdiction of the FAA. Thus, it’s possible for your drone to take off and land just outside a national park but fly within the park’s airspace. This method is inherently risky and isn’t something we recommend since the park management can still cite you for trespassing or noise pollution.

A far more legitimate way to fly your drone over a national park is to ask for permission the NPS. Upon the discretion of the agency, drone flight for scientific or research purposes can be allowed upon the granting of written permission. If this something you’d like to pursue, then you need to get in touch with the management of the park where you intend to fly your drone.

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2. State parks

In contrast to national parks, state parks are under the jurisdiction of the relevant state, county, or city. This means that there is no single set of rules regarding drone flight for all state parks in the US. However, a cursory search reveals that most state parks are considered no-fly zones for the same reasons cited by the NPS.

It isn’t all hopeless. It is still best to check your state park’s website or ask the park management about their rules on drone flight. In some cases, the park superintendent can identify a designated area where drone flight will be allowed.

3. Airports

Airports are a huge part of the reason why drones are restricted from flying in certain classes of airspace. Depending on the size of the airport and the amount of air traffic that it receives regularly, the controlled airspace surrounding an airport can vary in scope.

For instance, Class B airspace refers to the airspace around the busiest airports in the country. The extent of Class B airspace comes larger at higher altitudes, resembling an upside-down wedding cake. For a typical major airport, Class B airspace extends to about ten nautical miles near ground level and almost 30 nautical miles at higher altitude.

Class C and Class D airspace are assigned for the areas surrounding smaller airports and have a correspondingly smaller extent. A very small airport is typically assigned a 5-mile diameter Class D airspace.

If you have a Part 107 license, it’s actually possible for you to fly within controlled airspace if you can secure permission for the relevant air traffic control (ATC). The ATC will dictate the circumstances under which you will be allowed to fly, such as maintaining constant communication and staying away from the airport’s landing strip and flight paths.

4. Sports arenas

Under both commercial and recreational rules, drone flight is prohibited over crowds or over people who are not directly participating in the activity. Arenas with live sports events are particularly sensitive areas for drone flight because of the high density of people who can get injured should a drone crash happen. There have been several incidents of drones flying over sports events, and they always been controversial.

This is such a serious matter for the FAA that live sports events are common grounds for declaring a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR). Flying a drone in an area with a TFR is illegal unless you have the proper authorization.

5. Government buildings

Government buildings are sensitive areas in terms of security, which means that they do not take kindly to drones. This was demonstrated back in 2015 when a man was put in custody for flying a drone in LaFayette Park near the White House. The drone never made it to the fence of the White House, but the incident was serious enough for Washington DC to start testing out anti-drone technology.

Right now, flying a drone within 15 miles of the Washington DC area is prohibited and doing so will probably land you in jail with a hefty fine to boot. We suggest exercising due diligence when flying near any government building.

6. Military bases

Currently, it is prohibited to fly a drone over or near all military bases. Whether it’s an Army base, the Navy, National Guard, or the Air Force, your best bet is just to stay away. Aside from the possibility of compromising national security because of the camera in your drone, these places also tend to have an unusual amount of air traffic. If you do not want to be responsible for a near-miss with a military helicopter, then you’d better check the location of military bases before you fly.

7. Forest fires or any disaster areas

While it’s true the first responders nowadays have warmed up to using drones for their rescue efforts, they still do not appreciate having spectator drones in disaster response areas. The responders may be using their own drones or helicopters for firefighting or to conduct search and rescue. Having any unaccounted drones flying around in these emergency areas will get in the way of their efforts. Since the situation is already critical, the last thing that emergency want is to have an aircraft-related accident on their hands.

8. Prisons

It wasn’t expected during the early ages of drone technology, but drones have become a huge nuisance for prisons and other correctional facilities. All over the world, there have been numerous reports of contrabands being smuggled into prisons using drones. For this reason, drone flight has been outright banned in all prisons.

Some prisons have even gone as far as testing anti-drone technology in their facilities in a desire to curb illegal drone flight. In the Les Nicolles prison in the British island of Guernsey, an anti-drone fence that jams communication signals to drones was erected in response to such incidents. The SkyFence system, developed by Drone Defense and Eclipse Digital Solution, is one of only a handful of anti-drone technologies being developed and tested nowadays.

9. Schools

There is no FAA regulation restricting the flight of drones over schools. However, some cities and states have declared schools no-fly zones over security and privacy concerns. In a day and age where children and strangers with cameras are considered a terrible combination, this restriction is just one of the many consequences of the intrusive nature of camera drones when put in the hands of people with ill intent.

Countries where drone flight is banned

If you plan to travel to another country with your drone, then you need to take the time to read up on the country’s stance on drone flight. Not all countries have the relevant legislative framework to regulate drone flight. For some of these countries, banning drones altogether has become a necessity in the face of the lack of drone laws. For others, drones are just one entry in the long list of technologies that are banned, including social media and open access to the Internet.

The following is a list of countries where drone flight is heavily restricted or otherwise banned. Take note that laws are subject to change anytime, so it’s still worthwhile to check the country’s official page on drone laws.

1. Barbados

There has been a ‘temporary’ ban on drone importations in Barbados which has taken effect in 2017 and has been extended several times. It is still being implemented currently. The ban was implemented due to the lack of relevant legislation on drones and will likely remain in effect until such legislation has been passed.

If you are coming into Barbados with a drone, it will be confiscated and held at customs. If this happens, you can claim the drone by applying for a license from the country’s Ministry of Defense and Security. Although this allows you to claim the drone and bring it to Barbados, you will still be prohibited from flying it. Our advice – leave your drone at home.

2. Belgium

The rules on drone flight in Belgium are very restrictive. It’s possible and legal to fly your drone recreationally, but only with very strict conditions. Aside from the usual rules (keeping within visual line-of-sight, not flying over private property), you are only allowed to fly a drone that weighs than 1 kilogram and only up to an altitude of 10 meters.

Commercial drone flight in Belgium, on the other hand, is a much more complicated matter. You will need to register a drone, formulate a risk analysis, and secure authorization from the DG Airspace of the FPS Mobility. The Royal Decree of April 2016 regarding commercial drone flight also has requirements related to pilot training, drone maintenance, and mandatory insurance. It’s going to be a long and tedious process, and likely isn’t something you can accomplish on a short visit.

3. Brunei

Under Section 21 of the Civil Aviation Order of 2006, drone use in Brunei is forbidden. This restriction applies to both recreational and commercial drone flight. Any violation to this law is subject to a fine of up to $5000 and jail time of up to five years.

The blanket restriction was put in place due to the lack of any legislative framework regarding drone flight. Although the Department of Civil Aviation is currently conducting negotiations with stakeholders to come up with applicable legislation, the restriction will remain enforced until further notice.

4. Cuba

Importation of a drone in Cuba is heavily prohibited. If you bring a drone along with you on a flight to Cuba, it will be confiscated at the airport. It’s possible to get your drone back upon departure, but you will likely have to pay a penalty. In some cases, travelers have failed to retrieve their confiscated drones.

When traveling to Cuba, leave your drone at home.

5. Egypt

According to the Egypt Aviation Act of 2018, “No unmanned aircraft is allowed to fly or to work in the territory of the State unless upon permission of the Civil Aviation Authority.” Although the law states a provision to get a permit from the CAA, we’re not optimistic about a foreigner getting this sort of approval. Even the bringing in of drones is prohibited, and your drone will likely end up confiscated at the airport. As with any confiscated goods, it’s a gamble whether you can get your drone back or not.

If you’ve been dreaming of capturing aerial shots of the great pyramids, then this news is understandably disappointing. You’ll just have to make do with shots from the ground.

6. Ethiopia

Legislative matters in Ethiopia are a bit murky, to say the least. There is no concrete source of information on drone laws in Ethiopia. However, the experience of drone pilots who have attempted to fly a drone in Ethiopia has been discouraging.

There have been accounts of drones getting confiscated in Ethiopia, with customs officials unable to specify what law was being violated. Some sources say that a permit is needed to use a drone in Ethiopia, while some say that it’s outright illegal. Your best bet will be to get in touch with their Ministry of Communications if you want a clarification on this matter, although we can’t guarantee a response.

7. Fiji

Flying a drone in Fiji requires you register with the Civil Aviation Authority of Fiji (CAAF). To be fair, Fiji has fair terms in granting the authority to fly a drone. The application form can be downloaded from CAAF’s website and emailed to them for their evaluation. It will take a few days before you receive a response to your application.

Even if you are granted the authority to fly your drone, you will need to keep in mind that the drone rules in Fiji might be more restrictive than what you are used to. Only drones that weigh less than 7 kilograms will be approved to fly, and they must remain within an altitude of 200 feet. You will also be required to get an aviation liability insurance.

Other than those special rules, you can fly your drone within the usual restrictions: not flying close to the airport and maintaining visual line-of-sight. Bringing in drones to Fiji is not forbidden, so you should not go through any hassle at the airport.

8. India

Drone flight in India was only recently legalized. As of December 1, 2018, the blanket restriction against all drone flight has been lifted. However, the provision to legally fly a drone in India (which requires drone registration and pilot certification) is only available for citizens of the country. Foreigners currently cannot enjoy this benefit.

The good news is that the recently implemented law has made it possible to capture drone footage in India. If you really want to capture aerial shots of the various sights in India, then you can lease your drone to an Indian citizen who can go through the regulatory processes for you. It’s not the ideal solution, but it’s better than nothing.

9. Iran

As expected of a country with so much armed conflict, the entry of drones is strictly prohibited in Iran. According to Article 122 of the Customs Law of Iran, the entry of any device capable of aerial photography is forbidden unless with the approval of the Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces. This is consistent with the rules implemented by the Civil Aviation Organization of Iran (CAOI). Your drone will be confiscated at the airport should you attempt to bring it to Iran, with no guarantees that you’ll be getting it back.

10. Kenya

Drone use in Kenya was only legalized last year, but drone pilots need to secure permission from the Department of Defense and the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA). The process is quite strict even for locals, as they are required to be medically fit, complete training courses, secure a police clearance, and have liability insurance. The tedious licensing process has turned away many Kenyan drone enthusiasts. As it stands, permits have been granted only for isolated cases, typically for media and film productions.

This does not bode well for you as a foreigner visiting Kenya. While it’s theoretically possible to file an application to the two relevant agencies, it can be hard to do so without being physically present in the country. Making things worse is the fact that your drone will be confiscated at the airport if you do not already have the proper licenses.

Calls for the revision of the existing laws regarding drone flight in Kenya have been quite strong among its citizens. Until they achieve success in their appeal, it’s probably best to not attempt to bring a drone on your trip to Kenya.

11. Morocco

The importation and use of any drone in Morocco are strictly forbidden. If you attempt to bring in a drone to Morocco, it will be confiscated at the airport. If it’s unavoidable, your best course of action is to declare that you have a drone in the hopes that they the customs officials will be sympathetic to give you your drone back upon departure. However, there is no guarantee that this will work.

Only companies that have been granted a special permit can use a drone in Morocco. Private drone flight, whether for fun or profit, is completely prohibited. It’s a shame that you can’t get aerial shots of the gorgeous sights in Morocco, but the law is the law.

12. Nicaragua

Flying drones in Nicaragua is strictly prohibited unless you have a special permit. As such, you cannot bring a drone into Nicaragua. If you attempt to do so, it will be confiscated at the airport with no guarantee of return.

13. North Korea

North Korea has a totalitarian government that controls all aspects of how the country is ran. Right now, no available reference states whether drone flight is legal in North Korea. By default, it can be assumed that drone flight is prohibited in unless you have the permission of the government.

The lack of any drone-related legislation is problematic in itself. In many countries, the lack of law clearly stating that the entry of drones is allowed will lead to your drone getting confiscated at the airport. Even worse, it may even be at the discretion of customs officials.

Even if you do manage to get a drone through customs, we highly advise not flying it around without any sort of government approval. Foreigners have been detained in North Korea for less. We also can’t find any document stating how you can get permission to fly a drone in North Korea if it’s even possible. As you can imagine, the North Korea government isn’t exactly forthcoming with these kinds of details.

14. Russia

Russia already has a legal framework regarding the use of drones, so you shouldn’t have a problem bringing in a drone. However, flying your drone is a different matter altogether. According to Russia’s drone laws, a drone needs to be registered with the Ministry of Transport before it can be used. The drone registration process requires the drone pilot to submit personal data and to attach a special RFID plate to the drone which allows it to be identified from 300 meters away.

However, the airspace over major cities in Russia is restricted against drone use unless the drone pilot has a special permit. The application for this permit needs to be submitted to the Department of Regional Security and Anti-Corruption Activities and will take up to 24 working days to be processed.

The drone pilot needs to provide the details of the planned mission including the objectives of the flight, the time and date, the exact location and altitude, the drone model, serial number, noise specification, and number of motors. No less than eight government agencies are involved in the approval process.

The entire point of us detailing the process is to emphasize how hard it is, even for a Russian citizen, to fly a drone legally in Russia. You can expect the process to be much more complicated for a foreigner if it’s even possible. It’s a little too much bureaucracy for our taste, but your measures may vary.

15. Saudi Arabia

In previous years, drones were treated as serious security threats in Saudi Arabia and were generally prohibited. Just this year, a law was passed allowing the use of drones for both personal and commercial applications upon the application of a special drone permit. Additionally, commercial drone pilots need to undergo a training course given by the General Authority for Civil Aviation (GACA) before they are granted a permit.

However, there’s a bit of a snag for foreigners. Applicants for the drone permit must provide, on top of the drone make and serial number, a national identity card. This implies that the new laws on drone registration only applies to citizens of Saudi Arabia. Right now, there has been no mention yet on how foreigners can secure such permits.

If you’re planning to travel to Saudi Arabia with your drone, we suggest getting in touch with GACA first before you pack your bags. Arriving in Saudi Arabia with an unlicensed drone may result in it getting confiscated at the airport.

16. Uganda

Bringing in a drone legally to Uganda is possible, but the process will be very long. If you really must, then we suggest starting the process about three months before your arrival in Uganda.

First, you will need an import license for your drone to enter Uganda. Otherwise, the drone will be confiscated and kept in the airport.

Before you can fly your drone, you will also need to get a permit. What makes this a really tedious requirement is that you will likely need to get a separate permit for each flight mission. The application of the permit must indicate the purpose for the flight, the make of your drone, the date and time of the flight, and a map showing the location of your planned flight.

Even if you’ve already been granted the permit, you must remain in constant communication with air traffic control while you are flying your drone.

All in all, it’s certainly possible to bring your drone to Uganda and fly it there. There will be a lot of bureaucracy involved, so we hope you have the patience for it.

17. Zambia

Flying a drone in Zambia is legal as long as you have all the necessary approvals and licenses. However, getting these requirements is much easier said than done. You’re going to have to secure three things: an RPAS Letter of Approval, an RPAS Pilot’s License, and a Certificate of Registration. While bringing in your drone to Zambia shouldn’t be a problem, flying it during your stay there is a more complicated matter.

After you’ve all the requirements to fly legally in Zambia, you will have to comply with a whole list of operational restrictions. These include only operating your drone during daytime, away from public roads, not less than 10 kilometers away from an airport, and at least 50 meters away from people and buildings. You are also only allowed to fly a drone that weighs less than 7 kilograms.

In terms of distance from the pilot, a drone can only go up to a maximum altitude of 120 meters and not more than 500 meters horizontally.

If you’re planning to fly your drone in Zambia, then you need to be very careful as they apparently take their drone laws seriously.

Final thoughts

While drone laws in the US have been quite firmly established and drones are slowly gaining acceptance, it may not be the case for many other countries. Legislative issues, critical security situations, and totalitarian governments are just some of the many reasons for why other countries have not embraced drone technology. If you’re planning to travel to another country with your drone, take the time to read up on the country’s drone laws before you pack that drone.

Even if you’re just flying in the US, there are a couple of areas that you should avoid. Flight restrictions in the US are usually implemented for the sake of national security or airspace safety. Compliance is easy, as long as you know what you’re doing.