The drones can no longer be stopped, the experts at the international flight safety congress in the town hall of Langen agree. In a few years, millions of unmanned aerial vehicles will populate the sky around the world and make air traffic more unsafe – if things go wrong.
And things are already going wrong: Up until the end of October there were 61 dangerous approaches to manned aircraft and helicopters in German airspace alone, five times as many as a year earlier, reports the organizer Deutsche Flugsicherung (DFS). On Monday, a drone crashed to the ground in Munich’s Olympic Park from a height of 180 meters just next to a family with two children.
“Drones are not visible on the radar and are therefore a nightmare for any air traffic control,” says DFS boss Klaus-Dieter Scheurle. In association with the European aviation safety authority EASA, he therefore wants to give all unmanned aerial vehicles a cell phone chip as far as possible and have their position data fed into the air traffic control systems immediately.
This process, which is still in the pilot phase, has met with undivided praise from the pilots’ union Vereinigung Cockpit. Like DFS, your spokesman Markus Wahl does not believe in the simple number plate proposed by the Federal Ministry of Transport, because it can only provide information about the possible cause in the event of damage. The pilots would have to be warned beforehand about other flying objects. “As soon as I, as a pilot, know that there are drones, I’ve already taken the first step towards safety.”
The industry is also showing a high level of readiness for technical solutions for more security. A number of companies have already specialized in defense against drones, for example around football stadiums. The Chinese world market leader in drones, DJI, is working closely with US authorities to use software to make it impossible for the devices to fly over power plants, prisons, airports or military facilities, for example. Temporary flight bans could also be programmed using geo-fencing, promises DJI manager Brendan Schulman. He knows that a single spectacular terrorist attack with a drone bomb could destroy his business.
Despite all concerns and control requests, flight controllers want to open up as many commercial applications as possible to the fascinating technology. In the USA, large corporations sit on a permanent advisory body to the FAA, which sets the standards for the legal framework at a sometimes breathtaking pace. The bureaucratic Europeans can hardly keep up, as DFS boss Scheurle admits. The world air traffic control association CANSO is also putting pressure on it: After all, this wheel does not have to be reinvented in every country, says its representative Jeff Poole.
In Europe, the logistics giant DHL is a pioneer, since 2013 the Postler have been working on various load drones, which they tested first in Bonn, then on the North Sea island of Juist and finally in the Bavarian Alps in connection with two fully automatic parcel stations. “We are the first in the world who can use a transport drone – our parcel copter – for end customer access,” says Jürgen Gerdes, CEO of the Post, proudly. The next step is in the metropolitan areas – because of their traffic problems, the second possible location after the particularly remote parcel destinations.