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A drone over Swiss mountains

A more common sight: drone over Swiss mountains

(Keystone)

The number of drones seen by pilots or air traffic control in airspace rose sharply last year, officials say. The news comes shortly after a near miss between a drone and plane over Bern.

There were 85 reports of drones high in the skies in 2017, the Federal Office of Civil Aviationexternal link (FOCA) said. That’s almost double the number for 2016 (48).

Concerns have been raised over drones in airspace after a private drone and a business jet bound for Turkey came dangerously close to each other over the Swiss capital in late June. Last year, a drone nearly collided with an Airbus A330 at Zurich Airport. 

BAZL says that a first collision has already been reported, between a small drone and a helicopter in May. The helicopter was able to land but its rotor blade was damaged. “This resulted in damages amounting to tens of thousands of Swiss francs. This could have consequences for drone pilots. The question arises: will the insurance pay for this?,” FOCA’s Urs Holderegger told Swiss public television SRF.external link

The drone pilot let his machine fly over the Verzasca Dam in the southern canton of Ticino – famous for its James Bond stunt – which was out of his sight and less than 5 kilometres away from the nearest airfield. Both of these circumstances are forbiddenexternal link, which is why the Ticino police are investigating the incident.

According to Swiss law, disrupting aviation carries a maximum three years prison sentence or can result in a fine. Most of the time it is not possible to identify the drone pilots - but there are plans to introduce drone registration in Switzerland.

But the good news, FOCA says, is that the drone boom looks like slowing down, which should hopefully mean fewer near-miss accidents. The latest statistics for this year are not as high as for 2017, Holderegger said. However, the bad weather may have played a role here, he added.

It is estimated that there are around 100,000 drones in private possession in Switzerland. The airspace extending 5km around airports are no-fly zones for drones. 

SRF/swissinfo/ilj

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