Drones cause record number of air traffic disruptions in Germany

Drones resulted in 158 disruptions to air traffic in Germany last year - an 80 percent increase from 2017.

Drones cause record number of air traffic disruptions in Germany
Drones in Hesse. Photo: DPA

German Air Traffic Control (DFS) bosses reported that most of the incidents occurred at Germany’s biggest airport, Frankfurt, where 31 incidents were logged.

That was followed by Berlin-Tegel (17), Munich (14) and Hamburg (12). In 2017, a total of 88 cases were reported, while in 2016 there were 64 incidents. 

The graphic shows the reported obstructions near airports due to drones in 2018. Graphic: DPA

Is flying a drone legal?

Flying a drone is legal in Germany but strict rules must be followed. Drone flights over areas such as take-off and landing runways at airports are prohibited.

Drones are also not allowed to be flown over crowds, hospitals, prisons, government buildings, federal highways and railways. Drone operators must also keep their device within sight during the flight and not fly higher than 100 metres. There are exceptions at model airfields.

Control zones around German airports where drones cannot be flown can be viewed on the maps here.

The devices pose a major security risk. If they collide with an aircraft, they can damage its hull or engine. The main problem for air traffic control is that threats are not visible on the radar, DFS spokeswoman Ute Otterbein told the Hessenschau.

The figures are therefore based on information from pilots who report a drone sighting to the air traffic controllers.

Otterbein said there had been no major incidents involving drones in Frankfurt. However, last summer take-offs and landings were blocked for several minutes following the sighting of a drone. The reaction to drone sightings is decided on a case by case basis, depending on the perceived risk. 

More measures

The Federal Association of the German Air Transport Industry (BDL) called for more safety measures.

“We consider it necessary for drones and their owners to be subject to compulsory registration so that responsibility can be clearly assigned,” said BDL boss Matthias von Randow.

Drones should also be equipped with technology, such as a transponder, that makes them identifiable to authorities and other aircrafts.

Huge disruption

The announcement in Germany follows a huge flight disruption which hit passengers across Europe in the run up to Christmas when Gatwick airport near London reported sightings of drones close to the airport.

About 140,000 people were affected by flight disruptions between December 19th and 21st as Gatwick shut its runway amid safety and security fears.

Two people were arrested in connection with the drone sightings but later released without charge.

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Flights in Germany to ‘radically decrease’ in 2020

German airports can expect a decline in flights and passenger numbers in 2020, according to a forecast by the German Airports Association (ADV).

Flights in Germany to 'radically decrease' in 2020
Berlin's Tegel airport, which is slated to close on November 8th, 2020. Photo: DPA
“Air traffic in Germany will not be able to maintain the growth path of recent years in 2020,” ADV CEO Ralph Beisel told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) on Thursday. “The outlook for the new year 2020 is gloomy.”
The association expects 0.7 percent fewer passengers and 2.9 percent fewer take-offs and landings in 2020, reported FAZ.
“The harsh market environment, characterized by rising kerosene prices and insolvencies, is also driving airlines to radically thin out their flight schedules,” the ADV said. 
Germany's air transport tax is also set to rise significantly from April as part of a political push to disincentive taking cheap inter-European flights rather than trains. 
In 2019, the number of air passengers rose only slightly to 244.7 million, missing the original forecast of 2.7 percent growth – which would have brought the total figure to 250 million passengers. 
“In fact, the traffic development already saw a [downward] shift in the summer and even slipped into the red with the route cancellations in the winter flight schedule,” said Beisel.
Passenger record in Berlin
There was, however, a passenger record at the Berlin airports Tegel and Schönefeld in 2019.
Around 35.5 million passengers have travelled via Tegel and Schönefeld in the past twelve months, announced airport boss Engelbert Lütke Daldrup. 
This means that the number of passengers in the capital has grown by 2.2 percent. There were approximately 24.2 million passengers at Tegel Airport, while the number at Schönefeld was 11.3 million.
Berlin's new airport BER is scheduled to open on October 31st, nine years after its projected opening date.
Daldrup predicted that that this will be accompanied by a significant growth in intercontinental connections.
After the opening of BER, Tegel Airport is set to close eight days later.
air traffic – (der) Luftverkehr
gloomy/dismal – düster
growth trajectory – (der) Wachstumspfad
thin out – ausdünnen
missed – verfehlt 
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