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Unmanned Systems & Drones

Safety first – New rules in the air

The German Federal Government wants to regulate private drone traffic more strongly. The law will make things easier for commercial users.

28 Feb. 2017

It was a close-run thing: In August 2016, an Airbus captain saw a drone at an altitude of 1,700 meters when approaching Munich airport – at the same level as the aeroplane. The unmanned device was only ten meters away from the right wing tip.

Drones are increasingly getting in the way of airplanes and helicopters. In 2015, Deutsche Flugsicherung counted 64 cases – nearly five times as many dangerous near misses as in the previous year. It’s hardly surprising. Air traffic control estimates that more than 400,000 drones flew through German airspace in 2016 – with steeply rising numbers. Crashing drones are also a growing danger as a result.

In order to reduce the rising risk of accidents, the German Federal Government therefore decided to pass stricter rules for using the devices in January 2017. According to the bill, all drones with a weight above 250 g must be marked with a plate in future, so that the name and address of the owner can be determined in the case of damage. Drones also are not to fly any higher 100 meters, always remain in sight of their operator, stay out of other people’s residential properties, and avoid crowds. Flying them within a perimeter of 1,500 meters around airfields is to be forbidden. The bill requires a kind of operator’s license and an operating permit for larger models.

The rules for the commercial use of unmanned aviation systems, however, are to be reduced. Commercial users currently require a special flight permit, regardless of the drone’s weight. In future, this will only be needed from a total weight of five kilograms. Commercial operators are no longer to be obligated to keep their drones in sight. This would make work much easier for parcel delivery drones as planned by Amazon or Deutsche Post.

The German Federal Assembly will have to deal with the bill next. Consistent rules are also being developed on a European level.