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India releases interactive drone airspace map, majority of area demarcated as green zone

The map freely available for all was made possible in part, due to the liberalised drone rules and guidelines for geospatial data.

Drone airspace map of Delhi | Source: Ministry of Civil Aviation

The Ministry of Civil Aviation recently released India’s airspace map for drone operations, according to a press release on September 24. The drone airspace map comes as a follow-up to the liberalised Drone Rules, 2021 that was notified on August 26; the PLI scheme for drones was released on September 15, and the Geospatial Data Guidelines were issued on February 15.

Essentially, the drone airspace map, developed in collaboration with MapMyIndia, is an interactive map of India that demarcates the country into yellow and red zones. A look at the map shows that the entire expanse of the country has been demarcated as a green zone, except for small pockets designated as red or yellow zones. In green zones, no permission is required for operating drones with an all-up weight of up to 500 kg.

The concept of having green, red, and yellow zones was proposed in the Drone Rules 2021 which replaced the Unmanned Aerial System Rules 2021. This interactive map could make it easier for operators to fly their drones without accidentally crossing into territory where drone operations are prohibited or require permission from authorities.

Features of the drone maps

  • Yellow zone: It is the airspace above 400 feet in a designated green zone. The distance between the two zones gets reduced to 200 feet in an area located between 8-12 km from the perimeter of an operational airport. Drone operations in the yellow zone require permission from the concerned air traffic control authority – AAI, IAF, Navy, HAL, and so on.
  • Red zone: It is the ‘no-drone zone’ within which drones can be operated only after obtaining permission from the Central Government.

A look at the drone airspace map of Hyderabad | Source: Digital Sky web platform

  • The airspace map may be modified by authorised entities from time to time, the civil aviation ministry said.
  • Anyone planning to operate a drone should mandatorily check the latest airspace map for any changes in zone boundaries, the civil aviation ministry said.
  • The drone airspace map is freely available on the digital sky platform to all without any login requirements.

How Geospatial Data Guidelines helped in its formation

In February 2021, the Indian government published the Geospatial Data Guidelines which liberalised mapping rules with a touch of protectionism. The guidelines clean up some of the uncertainty around the legality of mapping in India. These are a few of its features

  • Preferential access to Indian companies: The guidelines allow Indian companies (like MapMyIndia) to easily access systems that are useful for compiling mapping data.
  • Localisation of map data: Map data that is more accurate than one metre can only be processed and stored in India.
  • Research access: Maps produced with public funds should be available widely, the guidelines said. The Survey of India will also abolish map license systems and make map data available in formats that can be used by mapping companies readily, the guidelines added.
  • Survey of India’s borders are “standard”: “For political Maps of India of any scale including national, state and other boundaries, SoI published maps or SoI digital boundary data are the standard to be used, which shall be made easily downloadable for free and their digital display and printing shall be permissible,” the guidelines said.

PLI schemes for drones announced

The Indian government on September 15 announced a Rs 120 crore production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme for the drone industry which it claimed will bring investments of over Rs 5,000 crore in three years. This Rs 120 crore outlay is part of the Rs 26,000 crore earmarked for the PLI scheme of the automobile sector.

In its PLI document, the Ministry of Civil Aviation reasoned that it was bringing drones under the incentive scheme as there was a lack of early-stage funding and bank loans for drone startups. The ministry said that for the industry to succeed in the future, it will need access to fiscal and monetary support — like other countries.

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Among other subjects, I cover the increasing usage of emerging technologies, especially for surveillance in India

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