Drone Rules 2021: Why demarcation of airspace, interactive maps and permission before flying is critical

Drone Rules 2021: The airspace map for drone operations shall be designed to be programmatically accessible through a machine-readable Application Programming Interface

Representational Image. ANI

The Ministry of Civil Aviation on Thursday released the updated Drone Rules, 2021 for public consultation, which will finally replace the Unmanned Aircraft System Rules 2021 which was released on 12 March. The ministry has fixed 5 August as the last date for the receipt of public comments.

In the draft rules, the Central government has categorically stated that it is likely to update the airspace map of the entire country within 30 days of the date of notification of the new rules. It will also publish the revised airspace map on the digital sky platform for drone operations segregating the entire airspace of India into red, yellow and green zones with a horizontal resolution equal or finer than 10 metres.

What are the three airspace zones of India?

Green zone: The green zone means the airspace from the ground up to a vertical distance of 400 feet (120 metre) above ground level (AGL) that has not been designated as a red zone or yellow zone in the airspace map for drone operations.

It also covers the airspace from the ground up to a vertical distance of 200 feet (60 metre) AGL in the area located between a lateral distance of 8 kilometre and 12 kilometre from the perimeter of an operational airport.

In the airspace above 400 feet (120 metre) AGL in a designated green zone and the airspace above 200 feet (60 metre) AGL in the area located between the lateral distance of 8 kilometre and 12 kilometre from the perimeter of an operational airport, the provisions of the yellow zone shall apply.

Yellow zone: The yellow zone means the controlled airspace of defined dimensions above the land areas or territorial waters of India within which drone operations are restricted and shall require permission from the concerned air traffic control authority.

Red zone: In the red zone, the airspace of defined dimensions, above the land areas or territorial waters of India, or any installation or notified port limits specified by the Central government beyond the territorial waters of India within which drone operations shall be permitted only under exceptional circumstances by the Central government

Moreover, there is also the provision of geo-fencing where the movement of a drone will be restricted within a defined airspace.

Why airspace demarcation for drones is necessary

Explaining the importance of demarcating airspace in his piece Airspace in an Age of Drones, Associate Professor of Law in Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Troy A Rule wrote, “Some local governments may eventually engage in “drone zoning”—the practice of using zoning maps and ordinance provisions to designate geographic areas, altitudes, and circumstances within which parties may legally fly drones over land. This sort of spatial planning has long been a powerful means of limiting negative externalities and promoting synergies between various uses of a community’s land and other resources. Like lighting fireworks or raising backyard chickens, the flying of small drones is not inherently disruptive but can be very disruptive at certain locations or times. Drone zoning laws and other local drone-related ordinances could account for these location and time differences.”

How will interactive maps help in drone flying?

As per the Drone Rules, 2021, the airspace map for drone operations shall be designed to be programmatically accessible through a machine-readable Application Programming Interface (API). The airspace map will be interactive so that drone pilots will be able to plot their proposed flight plan and easily identify the zone(s) within which it falls so as to assess whether or not they need to make an application for prior approval.

Is demarcation of fly zones permanent?

The nature of zoning will be dynamic. The Central government may update the airspace map on the digital sky platform for drone operations from time to time to change the status of an area from one zone to another. Any such change shall come into effect no sooner than seven days after the date of such update.

Moreover, there is also a provision of a temporary red zone. In such a scenario the following measures will come into effect.

  • If there is an urgent need to temporarily prohibit drone flights in a specified area, the concerned state government, Union Territory administration or law enforcement agency may declare a temporary red zone over such specified area, for a period not exceeding 48 hours at a time, by notifying it through the digital sky platform and highlighting it on the airspace map.
  • The temporary red zone shall be declared by an officer, not below the rank of superintendent of police or its equivalent. Such an officer will have to keep the size of the temporary red zone reasonable and not excessive.
  • The digital sky platform will inform, through electronic means, holders of unique identification number within a distance of five kilometre from the perimeter of the temporary red zone of such a restriction, provided that the lack of receipt of such information shall not absolve a drone pilot of the responsibility to verify the zonal restrictions on the digital sky platform before commencing a drone operation.

Where is permission is needed to fly drones?

There will be a requirement of prior permission to operate a drone in a red or yellow zone and no person will be allowed to fly a drone without prior permission. Further, before commencing a drone operation, a drone pilot will have to mandatorily verify the digital sky platform for any notification or restriction applicable to drone operations in the intended area of operation.