Due to the fast-growing number of drone operations, Minister of Transport Alexander Dobrindt recently announced the revision of the rules governing the use of civil drones in Germany. According to the minister, such use is not sufficiently regulated (eg, light drones equipped with cameras that can be controlled by smartphones).

The envisaged rules aim to reduce hazards in the airspace and on the ground. It is planned that all devices with a take-off mass of more than 0.5 kilograms – whether for commercial or private purposes – must be marked to enable identification of the user in case of abuse or accidents.

New legislation is being drafted for commercial and private drone use. The key features have already been published by the Ministry of Transport.

Private drone flights will be prohibited:

  • at an altitude above 100 metres;
  • beyond the pilot's line of sight;
  • above industrial plants, correctional facilities, military installations, power plants, power generation and distribution facilities, and federal highways and railways;
  • above people or an assemblage of people, accident locations and disaster areas; and
  • at a place of action for police or other security services or organisations.

'Commercial use' will be redefined as follows:

  • Unmanned aerial systems offer great opportunities (eg, for agriculture and traffic monitoring). In order to support this development, possible applications will be extended.
  • In future, state authorities may permit flights beyond the pilot's line of sight if the pilot can prove safe operation. So far, any operation beyond the pilot's visual line of sight is generally prohibited.
  • There will be a pilot's licence for commercial users. Aeronautical and aviation law knowledge will be tested in an examination. The licence will be issued by the Federal Aviation Office.

Unquestionably, drone operations have the potential to affect flight safety. Commercial airline pilots have reported numerous near-misses and incidents at airports around the world. However, the actual impact on flight safety compared to incidents caused by laser pointers or bird strikes remains difficult to determine. Airworthiness certification, tracking beacons or collision avoidance systems might make drone use safer.

On the other hand, drone technology offers numerous opportunities and significant potential for development in many industries, while bureaucratic hurdles slow things down. Weighing risks and opportunities and transposing them into legislation will be subject to continuous change. Due to the broad range of unmanned aerial systems, as well as rapid technological progress, it is and will remain an ongoing legislative challenge.

For further information on this topic please contact Katja Helen Brecke or Ulrich Steppler at Arnecke Sibeth Rechtsanwaelte by telephone (+49 69 97 98 85 0) or email ([email protected] or [email protected]). The ArneckeSibeth website can be accessed at www.arneckesibeth.com.

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