Last year, drones were sighted 70 times near German airports, according to Deutsche Flugsicherung (DFS) - the company in charge of air traffic control in the Bundesrepublik. Another 18 drones were spotted by pilots along their flight route.
This is an increase from 2016, where DFS counted 64 drone sightings (58 during the take-off or landing of aircraft and six during flight routes).
Frankfurt Airport takes the lead for having spotted the most drones last year (15). This is followed by Tegel Airport in Berlin (11), Düsseldorf (8) and Munich (7). Berlin’s Schönefeld Airport reported five sightings while the airports in Cologne-Bonn and Hamburg each reported four sightings.
This is not good news according to DFS as drones pose a danger to air traffic. In 2016, a Lufthansa plane almost crashed into a drone when landing in Munich. A miniature aircraft moreover almost collided with a passenger plane in Hamburg in 2015, triggering a hunt for the pilot.
A drone in Leipzig. Photo: DPA
In Canada last October, a drone that collided with a commercial plane resulted in minor damage. But the authorities said that the collision could have had catastrophic consequences if the drone had hit the plane’s cockpit or engines.
“We have long recognized that many people obviously have no idea how dangerous a drone can be when it’s in the wrong place," said DFS spokesperson Ute Otterbein. Predictions that there would be more than 100 incidents for the first time in 2017 may not have materialized, but there are still "too many," he said.
DFS developed a drone app in the summer (DrohnenApp) to inform the public on the potential dangers involved with flying the small aircraft. It is now believed to be used by 20,000 people. Books also provide information on where drones are allowed to fly and where they are banned, states the DFS.
The air traffic control company estimates that there are around one million drones in use in private households in Germany. In addition to that, smaller models are available for less than €100. Photographers also use larger models to take aerial photography and companies such as Deutsche Post have been testing parcel deliveries by drone.
But stricter rules implemented in October might change the number of drones in German skies. Larger drones must now be clearly labelled and some of them even require special permits. If a drone weighs more than two kilograms, the pilot needs to show proof of flying credentials.
An important no-no under German remote piloting regulations is that a drone may not go beyond visual contact with its owner - the maximum altitude is 100 metres.
In spite of this, one drone pilot boasted online in 2016 about flying his vehicle one kilometre into the sky - a clear contravention of the rules. He later received a fine.
Fines handed to drone pilots so far have ranged from €300 to €450 - but authorities have the ability to really put the hammer down, with penalties of up to €50,000 for the most serious offences.
Drone flights over "sensitive zones" such as around airports are moreover strictly forbidden. But most owners aren't currently legally obliged to register their aircraft. This means that in the event that a drone is spotted close to an aircraft, determining its owner can be tricky.