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This page describes what aviation-related things should and should not be added to OpenStreetMap. For an overview of airports and aviation in OSM see Aeroways. For a detailed list of aviation-related tags see aeroway=*.
Things to Map
We map anything that is observable on the ground. For example:
- Airports, airfields, airstrips, runways, taxiways, terminal buildings, and hangars. See Aeroways
- Ground-based navigation aids such as VORs.
If a landmark doubles as a VFR reporting point, there is nothing against adding a tag to that landmark describing the fact.
Things Not to Map
We do not map things that are not observable on the ground. For example:
- VFR aerodrome traffic patterns
- SIDs and STARs (departure and arrival patterns for IFR)
- airspace (control zones, no-fly zones, TMZes, airspaces A-G, FIRs, MATZes, restricted/prohibited/danger areas)
- airways, flight paths, and flight routes
- reporting points with no visible ground reference
Mapping these objects is strongly discouraged, and it is well possible that they are removed by other mappers.
OpenStreetMap is strongly geared towards what's actually on the ground. There are a few exceptions to that rule (like administrative boundaries or postal codes), but such data is normally relevant to the map. It's often the case that though boundaries etc. are not marked on the ground, they often coincide with existing features, like a river or motorway.
Items listed above under "Things Not to Map" are not like this; they are almost fully orthogonal to on-the-ground mapping.
If you had a separate database with only airspace in it, you could easily print that on top of a standard OSM map without having to fear that features don't match up: airspace and other features are completely independent. It could be interesting to collect them in a crowdsourced project, but OSM is not the place for that. Have a look at OpenAviationMap instead.
- Airspace is usually not observable on the ground, and cannot be "improved" by mappers. It is defined by aviation authorities and in OSM we would only ever be able to keep a "copy" of that — maybe not even a current copy. It is incredibly difficult to maintain such data without proper knowledge and access.
- Airspace boundaries, airways, etc. cut right across the country, through cities, and so on, and provide an unnecessary distraction to mappers. This is different from a house outline that distracts you when you map a street — it goes right across, and any connection between physical objects and such airspace is likely an error. While some editors can hide stuff, this is an advanced feature and we don't want OSM to become too difficult to edit.
- Airspace is of almost no significance to non-pilots. Arguments like "one would like to know if the house one intends to buy is within some kind of airspace" are mostly fantasy. OSM generally tolerates some amount of specialist information — this is one of its strengths — but a large amount of objects serving a specific purpose is not appealing. Moreover, anyone who is concerned about aviation traffic patterns for any reason can readily obtain that information from official aviation charts, sold at pilot shops at airports and via sellers on the Internet, or increasingly available at no cost as digital downloads from regional aviation authorities.
- Airspace is 3D and structured in multiple layers, making it difficult to map in 2D. This becomes especially tricky near airports. Additionally, airspace use and routes change depending on factors like time-of-day and runway-in-use, and amount of air traffic. En-route and above some altitude, air routes will try to go though the most direct route, following a "great circle" to save fuel and minimizing the cost of flights, and crossing each other in all directions with variable altitudes and with enough safety margins between altitudes of flights. Only the low altitudes are severely regulated by legislation with precise directions and narrow corridors for the approach of the landing area. The low altitude Visual Flight Rule or "Victor" airways extend up to 4 nm (7.4 km) either side of the centreline shown on charts, which covers a lot of ground on the surface.
- Weather conditions also play a very significant role in these routes changing constantly for the approach before landing or immediately after take-off (planes taking off have much more technical difficulties than those landing, once they have been given the authorization to take off they'll have the priority over everything else, so planes that are landing will have to wait in a safe circular area around the airport, except in exceptional emergency procedures where take offs will be delayed).
- Traffic, particularly private aircraft, is not restricted to published airways and may appear anywhere on the map in controlled and uncontrolled airspace.
- The usual form in which airspace is published is on printed, copyrighted maps; it is difficult, if not impossible, to actually get your hands on airspace descriptions that are official and not copyright encumbered.
Conclusion: Please refrain from mapping airspace, airways, and other non-observable aviation-related data in OpenStreetMap at this time. Please do not start proposals for aviation tags like "airspace" without first having a fundamental discussion about such mapping on one of the major mailing lists.
We realise that, even though pilots would not be legally allowed to use crowd-sourced airspace mapping, there is some demand for such mapping, mostly for recreational use, for example, in flight simulation software.
There is a newly started project based on the exact same philosophy and software stack as OSM, OpenAviationMap. Join our mailing list; we do not bite.
Here's a list of people who are interested in open aviation data and mapping: