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Drone Piloting License

“The drone-piloting license was long overdue”

TÜV SÜD specialist Eva Speer talks about getting certified to pilot drones, studying tricky test questions and using the driver’s license as a model.

Interview Tino Scholz

Ms. Speer, more and more people are using drones; their popularity is continually on the rise. Are they becoming more dangerous because of their popularity?
Instead I’d say that the technology is getting safer and safer. In the beginning, the only important thing was that the drone could fly and the battery lasted. Things have changed quite a bit in the meantime and the focus is more often on safety aspects these days. Something that can also be seen with the drone-piloting license, which has been required in Germany since October of last year to fly drones that weigh more than two kilograms. And the hardware continues to evolve, too. There are increasing numbers of suppliers who offer integrated parachutes, for example.

 

How do you explain the increase in the safety requirements?
Drones are getting increasingly high tech. Buyers have a legitimate interest in protecting their expensive commodity. There are even mission control systems, in the meantime, to help prevent crashes. It’s also an important topic for air traffic control: fortunately there haven’t been any fatal crashes yet, but there have been some close calls with collisions. The objective of these laws, similar to that for drivers’ licenses, is to make air traffic safer. Nobody is allowed to fly a drone within one hundred meters of federal highways, waterways or the railway network without a special permit.

 

Everything under control

Everything under control

TÜV SÜD specialist Eva Speer

And safety helps with acceptance within society?

Definitely. Even if numerous users still balk at the need for licensing. They say it would be like a license for riding a bicycle or for walking along a sidewalk. But drones can be used in many very beneficial but at the same time tricky areas: inspections, agriculture, mountain rescue, paramedics. In those situations, a person has to know what they’re doing.

 

What practical experience have you had so far with the tests of drone knowledge?

The drone-piloting license was long overdue. But naturally there is room for improvement: right now we don’t have a central pool of questions; every accredited location that conducts the tests—like TÜV SÜD—coordinates its test questions directly with the German Federal Aviation Office. The testing organizations could be merged like they have been for driver’s licenses. Then there would be a common, unified pool of questions and a synchronized response to further developments in the technology.

What sort of developments?

The questions are adjusted when there are major changes to the technology. For instance, right now there are questions about lithium-polymer batteries, the main type currently in use. If these change, then the questions will naturally change, too.3

 

What areas of knowledge are covered?

You have to know about air traffic laws, have at least a reasonable command of the topic of meteorology, and the areas of navigation and aerial technology are also important.

 

TÜV SÜD offers an e-learning course to prepare for the test. Does a layperson have a good chance of passing the test with the assistance of this course? Or is more prior knowledge necessary?

A person definitely has a good chance of passing. Besides, users in the commercial sector are the ones most likely to be taking the test—and they tend to already have some knowledge about drones.


And once you have the pilot’s license—are there then also random checks by the police as is the case for street traffic?
I don’t know about that. I am also not aware of any sort of fine. Certainly you have to show a pilot’s license for flights that require official authorization. But the whole thing is really in its infancy: all of that is still to come.