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Germany: New Rules for Operation of Drones and Model Aircraft

(Apr. 24, 2017) On April 7, 2017, an amendment to the Air Traffic Licensing Regulation and the Air Traffic Regulation entered into force in Germany.  The amendment introduced mores stringent rules for the operation of commercial drones.  In addition, the new rules will also be applicable to the operation of model aircraft.  (Verordnung zur Regelung von unbemannten Fluggeräten [Regulation to Regulate Unmanned Aerial Vehicles] (Drone Regulation), Mar. 30, 2017, BUNDESGESETZBLATT [BGBl.] [FEDERAL LAW GAZETTE] I at 683, BGBl. website; Luftverkehrs-Ordnung [LuftVO] [Air Traffic Regulation], Oct. 29, 2015, BGBl. I at 1894, GERMAN LAWS ONLINE; Luftverkehrs-Zulassungs-Ordnung [LuftVZO] [Air Traffic Licensing Regulation], June 19, 1964, BGBl. I at 370, as amended, GERMAN LAWS ONLINE.)

The Air Traffic Act defines unmanned aerial systems (UAS), commonly called “drones,” as “unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), including their control stations, which are not used for hobby or recreational purposes.” If, on the other hand, the UAVs are merely used for hobby or recreational purposes, they qualify as “model aircraft.”  (Luftverkehrsgesetz [LuftVG] [Air Traffic Act], May 10, 2007, BUNDESGESETZBLATT [BGBL.] [FEDERAL LAW GAZETTE] I at 698, § 1, ¶ 1, sentence 3, as amended, GERMAN LAWS ONLINE.) Until their amendment, the two sets of air traffic regulations were only applicable to the operation of drones and not to model aircraft.

New Labeling and Operator Requirements

All drones and model aircraft weighing more than 0.25 kilograms must be marked with a permanent and fireproof label indicating the name and address of the owner. (Drone Regulation, art. 1, no. 1.)  In addition, from October 1, 2017, onwards, operators of drones and model aircraft that weigh more than two kilograms will need certification to demonstrate that the operator has specialized knowledge of the operation of UAS and their legal framework.  This certification can be a pilot’s license or a similar certificate from an agency recognized by the Federal Aviation Office in the case of drones or a certificate from an aviation sports club in the case of model aircraft.  (Id. art. 2, no. 5, §§ 21d & 21e.)  The certificates are valid for five years.  A certificate will not be required if the UAS is only used on a model airplane airfield.  (Id. art. 2, no. 5, § 21a, ¶ 4, sentence 2.)

Authorization to Fly

Operation of the following drones and model aircraft requires an authorization to fly granted by the relevant state aviation authority and usually valid for two years:

  • drones or model aircraft weighing more than five kilograms;
  • rocket-powered drones and model aircrafts whose propellant mass exceeds 20 grams;
  • drones and model aircraft with a combustion engine, if they are flown within 1.5 kilometers of a residential area;
  • drones and model aircraft of all kinds if they are flown within 1.5 kilometers of an airport (flight at airports requires an additional clearance from German Aviation Control); and
  • drones and model aircraft of all kinds if flown at “night,” defined by the EU Implementing Regulation as the hours “between the end of evening civil twilight and the beginning of morning civil twilight.” (Id. art. 2, no. 5, § 21a, ¶ 1; Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 923/2012 of 26 September 2012 Laying Down the Common Rules of the Air and Operational Provisions Regarding Services and Procedures in Air Navigation and Amending Implementing Regulation (EU) No 1035/2011 and Regulations (EC) No 1265/2007, (EC) No 1794/2006, (EC) No 730/2006, (EC) No 1033/2006 and (EU) No 255/2010, 2012 O.J. (L 281) 1, art. 2, no. 97, EUR-LEX.) 

Prohibitions and Restrictions

Drones or model aircraft must always yield the right of way to manned aircraft. (Drone Regulation, art. 2, no. 5, § 21f, ¶ 1.)  The operation of drones and model aircraft weighing more than 25 kilograms is prohibited.  (Id. art. 2, no. 5, § 21b, ¶ 2.)

Drones or model aircraft weighing less than five kilograms must be kept within the operator’s visual line of sight at all times. (Id. art. 2, no. 5, § 21b, ¶ 1, sentence 1, no. 1.)  They are not within the visual line of sight if the operator cannot see them without vision-enhancing devices or if he/she is not able to have an unobstructed view of the aircraft.  The operation of drones or model aircraft with visual output devices like video glasses is not considered to be outside the visual line of sight if the aircraft is flown below 30 meters and weighs less than 0.25 kilograms. (Id. art. 2, no. 5, § 21b, ¶ 1, sentence 2.)

Drones and model aircrafts cannot be operated:

  • within 100 meters of or above people and public gatherings, the scene of an accident, disaster zones, other sites of operation of police or other organizations with security-related duties, and military drill sites;
  • within 100 meters of or above correctional facilities, military complexes, industrial complexes, power plants, and power generation and distribution facilities;
  • within 100 meters of or above the property of federal or state governments, diplomatic or consular missions, international organizations, and law enforcement and security agencies;
  • within 100 meters of or above federal highways, federal waterways, and railway systems;
  • above nature reserves;
  • above 100 meters;
  • above residential property if the drone or model aircraft weighs more than 0.25 kilograms or if it is able to receive, transmit, or record optical, acoustic, or radio signals;
  • in controlled airspace;
  • to transport explosives, pyrotechnic articles, radioactive materials, or hazardous materials; or
  • within 100 meters of or above hospitals. (Id. art. 2, no. 5, § 21b, ¶ 1, sentence 1, no. 2-11.)

The aviation authority may grant an exception to the general prohibitions in justified cases. (Id. art. 2, no. 5, § 21b, ¶ 3.)