More drones in Swiss skies mean more risks

Drones are becoming increasingly commonplace in Switzerland Keystone

This summer in Switzerland, drone sales are expected to grow – adding to pressure for tighter security and rules.

This content was published on June 22, 2017
Frédéric Burnand, Genève

The devices are getting easier to pilot, which makes them more accessible to the buying public, but good weather is another factor in their recent demand.

Swiss online retailer Digitec Galaxus saw drone sales rise nearly 90% in 2016 and this summer’s “sunny, dry weather equals increased drone sales”, spokesman Alex Hämmerli told Swiss News Agency, noting four-fifths of buyers are men.

With all the recent demand there now are about 100,000 drones in Switzerland, said Antonello Laveglia of the Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation, which is raising awareness with an online video. Parliament believes the current law is sufficient to regulate drones.

Laveglia advises drone operators to always:
•    Ensure you can see the drone at all times.
•    Respect all no-fly zones (5 kilometres around airports).
•    Fly at least 100 metres above people.
•    Respect others’ privacy.

Unlike the remote-control model airplanes of yesteryear, drones require fewer piloting skills. Sensors help to stabilise flying manoeuvres and avoid certain obstacles. They also can program a flightpath.

It’s not just the drones that raise questions: there’s the technology they can carry on board, particularly cameras. 

“Drones are examples of dual-use technology,” said Stéphane Koch, a Geneva-based expert in new technology. “These flying cameras provide their users with new ways of getting up close and personal, but put them at risk of intruding on private property.”


And then there are the risks of serious accidents. At the end of May, a drone nearly collided with an Airbus A330 at Zurich Airport.

Such near-mishaps are becoming more commonplace, growing six-fold to 30 in 2016 up from just five in 2010.^

The Swiss Transportation Safety Investigation Board believes it is “simply a matter of time” before a drone and a passenger plane collide.

Skyguide, which monitors Swiss airspace, has been developing a smartphone app for drone owners to define and reserve a flight corridor. Users could communicate the position of their drone in real-time to avoid collisions. The project will be unveiled in Geneva in mid-September.

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