Drone interference at airports remains a serious concern despite the reduction in air traffic.
In 2020, the German air navigation service provider DFS logged fewer reports of interference caused by drones at airports in Germany than in previous years. More than half of these occurrences, however, led to traffic disruptions.
In total, 92 drone-related occurrences were reported in German airspace in 2020, which was lower than in previous years (2019: 125; 2018: 158). Proportionally, however, the volume of air traffic, which came in 56 percent below the previous year’s level, declined more than the number of such occurrences. Consequently, even with reduced traffic volumes resulting from the pandemic, drones had a massive impact on flight operations.
In one third of the cases, air traffic was severely restricted. Such restrictions have consequences. The spacing between arriving and departing aircraft may have to be increased, or it can mean that specific areas, such as individual runways, cannot be used. In extreme cases, no take-off or landing clearances can be issued, which is tantamount to an airport closure. At the beginning of 2020, Frankfurt Airport was out of service for four and a half hours in total, following two occurrences with drones.
The majority of drone-related occurrences took place at Frankfurt Airport (24 reports), followed by Hamburg Airport (10) and Berlin Tegel Airport (8). With regard to the incidents at Frankfurt Airport, the police had grounds to believe that they were planned disruptive actions and initiated criminal proceedings against persons unknown. Under German law, unauthorised drone flights in the vicinity of airports are considered as dangerous interference in air traffic and are punishable with imprisonment for up to 10 years in Germany.
In 2020, DFS carried out a comprehensive study of drone detection systems. Between August and November, drone detection systems from six vendors were put to the test at the airports of Frankfurt and Munich. For 600 flights with various types of drones, DFS investigated the effective use of these drone detection systems at large-scale airports in live operations. The findings of this project will serve as the basis for a future tender for a drone detection system. DFS maintains that successful drone defence by regulatory and police authorities will only be possible with reliable drone detection.