The new rules will impact on the increasing number of businesses looking to make use of drone technologies to improve their logistics, including those companies engaged in delivering goods to consumers, an expert has said.
Igor Barabash of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that the regulations, which came into force on 7 April, were prompted by the increasing use of drones in Germany and growing concerns about the risk of collision with aircraft and other infrastructure, such as pylons, as well as concerns over risk of damage to property, life or health from their use.
Different rules apply depending on the weight of the drone, as well as whether they feature cameras or microphones. The rules are also different where drones are operated for commercial purposes rather than for recreational purposes.
The regulations set restrictions on flights near airports and within close proximity to other infrastructure such as energy plants, prisons, roads and railways. Prior permission would be required from German authorities for night flights. Also, operating a drone with a weight of more than 2kg requires a flying licence which can be issued by an affiliate of the Federal Office for Civil Aviation (Luftfahrtbundesamt). Any use of drones that weight more than 5kg requires an additional permit from the State Office for Civil Aviation of the respective German federal state. Usage of drones above 25kg is prohibited, apart from very specific use cases.
Other restrictions also apply to the proximity to which drones can be flown about homes or people in public places. All operators of drones with a weight above 250g are obliged to fix a fire-resistant label containing their name and address on their machine under the new rules,starting from 1 October.
Barabash said that there are approximately 400,000 drones reported to be in use in Germany, and that companies such as DHL and Amazon are among the businesses leading the way in exploring how they can be used to improve logistics.
As well as the new health and safety regulations, businesses operating drones must be aware of their obligations under data protection laws, he said.
"There is no explicit mentioning of data protection in the new regulation," Barabash said. "However, the German data protection regulations are technology-neutral, and so automatically apply to the use of new technology such as drones. It is notable that two provisions from the new regulation prohibit the use of drones near crowds and in residential areas. Although those provisions are likely included to mitigate the risk of damage to property and people from crashes, they also provide for a higher level of privacy. This is because, for use above residential properties, drones with a weight of more than 250g, or with cameras/microphones fitted, cannot be used without the prior permission of the landlord."