Since August of this year, the German air navigation service provider DFS has been conducting drone tests at Frankfurt and Munich, Germany’s two busiest airports. The objective is to determine whether and how reliably state-of-the-art detection systems can actually identify drones.
The issue of drones operating in controlled airspace and interfering with air traffic has developed into a major problem, especially when they operate without authorisation in the vicinity of airports. Since 2015, DFS has recorded over 500 drone-related interferences at Germany’s 16 international airports. Nearly 360 of them have occurred in the last two years, causing serious disruptions to air traffic and preventing air traffic controllers from allowing aircraft to take-off or land due to safety concerns. This resulted in both flight cancellations and delays, which in turn had severe economic consequences. In early 2020, for example, Germany’s busiest airport in Frankfurt was forced to shut down for a total of 4.5 hours due to drones being spotted in the airport’s immediate vicinity. According to estimates of Euro control, the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation, each flight cancellation incurs average costs of €17,650, while each delayed flight incurs approximately €6,600 per hour.
To secure the safe integration of unmanned aircraft systems in the airspace, it is essential to identify not only authorised drones, but also so-called uncooperative drones. Uncooperative drones do not make themselves visible or identifiable and pose a major threat to both manned and unmanned air traffic at and around airports.
DFS believes that unmanned aviation has great benefits. When used in rescue services, for example, drones can save lives. However, nobody benefits from flights being cancelled or delayed due to drones being spotted around airports. In 2019, the German Ministry of Transport, therefore, commissioned DFS with systematic drone detection at the country’s 16 international airports. One of the requirements defined was for drones to be detected at up to 10 nautical miles from runways as a way of preventing any risk of interference with aircraft taking off or on their final approach.